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Evelyn C. Fortson

African American Author of Women's Fiction


Living in the high desert has taught me to appreciate the changing seasons. When I lived in Altadena and Los Angeles, the seasons melded together into continuous sunny days. Occasionally the golden days were interrupted by a few days of gray skies or rain. But here in the high desert the seasons are distinct and change abruptly.

This winter, however, was long, cold, and refused to go away.

Today is the first day of Spring, but you wouldn’t know it by looking outside. Light gray clouds blanket the sky threatening rain.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is for more rain. Winter is like the drunk girl at the party, that refuses to go home before dancing one last dance.

Goodbye Winter, today is Spring even if it doesn’t look like it. Today, I will decorate my dining room table with objects that speak of springtime. So, get your last dance in, have one more drink before you go away.

Hello Spring, come in. Oh, don’t worry about her, she will be gone soon. She’s just getting it in, one last time. Come on in, let’s dance!

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I visited the Big Easy last year during Mardi Gras and had a great time. But this year I wanted to do something different. I decided to do a Plantation Tour.

There is something about the city of New Orleans that I find so intriguing. The influence of enslaved and free people of color touches almost everything you see, hear or taste. Walking the streets of the French Quarters or the Garden District I can imagine the enslaved, some of which were likely my ancestors walking the same streets. Riding through the streets of the lower 9th ward you can feel the mournful vibrations of the runaway slaves that lived in the swamps that later became the 9th ward.

Seeing the vacant lots where homes and businesses once stood before Hurricane Katrina weighed heavily on my heart. August 29, 2023 will mark the eighteen year anniversary and yet, Katrina still lives there. I didn’t see a major supermarket, bank, or franchise in the area. There was a stillness about the place as if it was waiting for some fresh hell to descend upon it. I wondered how people could live there when they know that political leaders would sacrifice them again before they would allow the French Quarters to be jeopardized. Maybe they are taking a stand refusing to lose one more thing.

On this trip I took a plantation tour. I wanted to stand in a slave cabin, because I knew that some part of me had been there before. It was in a slave cabin that my ancestors would have decided to risk death by running or stay,(seeking freedom in another way). I wanted them to know that they would never be forgotten. I wanted them to see me freer than they could have imagined, and I wanted to see what they had endured.

As the tour bus drove to the plantation we passed swamps, and bayous. Alligators were sunning themselves on the side of the road. I thought about the snakes, alligators, bears, nutrias, bobcats… that must have roamed the land freely before the enslaved were forced the clear it. I couldn’t imagine being trapped on that plantation after closing time. How alone I would feel shrouded in complete darkness when the sun when down. How the vastness of the starry night sky would further diminish me.

Driving away from the plantation I was grateful that it was still standing, testifying to the brutality of the gentry southern aristocrat. The plantation stands as physical proof of a history that they don’t want to teach in school.

Dotted along the rural landscapes of Louisiana are plantations that have stories of brutality, bravery, strength, and faith. Stories that may never be discovered. The stories of people that built these United States, who names we will never know, but their collective history must not be ignored because it’s uncomfortable or too painful.

Whether or not to take a plantation tour is a personal one. But which plantation that you choose to visit should not be taken lightly. I toured the Whitney Plantation because it has never and vows that it will never be a site for a wedding. You can’t grab a bite to eat or drink a mint julep or reserve a room. The focus of the Whitney Plantation is to educate and preserve the history of the enslaved. On the plantation there are two memorials. The Wall of Honor, which lists the names of the 350 enslaved people of the Whitney Plantations, as well as the names of 107,000 enslaved people of Louisiana. The Field of Angel memorial list the names of 2,200 children that died in St. John the Baptist Parish between the 1820s-1860s.

It took me several days to gather my thoughts on this subject. I hope I was coherent, it was difficult to stay focused on a period of history that continuously shapes and reshapes my perspective.

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Another killing at the hands of the police. This one is especially hard because of who the killers are. Five African American men in police uniforms in a southern state that was once the hub of the slave trade chased down a man to punish him for running. The fact that everyone of them were Black is gut wrenching. Didn’t they see themselves when they saw Tyre Nicholas?

When I see Black Officers I hope that they have put on that uniform to actuate change in policing. I had hoped that their presence in the institution of protecting the status quo would somehow lessen the danger to us.

As I looked at their mug shots, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had forgotten that they are Black men. Did they really believe in that Us versus Them mentality that the police force propagates? If they did believe that they were a part of a brotherhood that would protect them like their White counterparts, they would soon find out how Black they are.

RowVaugh Wells, Tyre Nichols’ mother, stated in an interview that she would pray for the officer’s families, because they have disgraced their families. Maybe that is a part of what I’m feeling. I feel the ugliness of what they did. Watching them beat a man as he cried out for his mother was a shameful act. They dishonored us because we are connected by our shared experience in this country. We are connected by our coily hair, our thick lips, wide noses and our melanated skin.

The Police Officers that beat Tyre Nichols to death did not see their brother, they saw him as a dangerous Black man in a hoodie. They saw him as the world portrays young Black men. They didn’t see the young man that loved to photograph beautiful sunsets. They didn’t see the young father that worked to provide for his family. Or the man that loved his mother so much that he had her name tattooed on his arm.

Tyre Nichols sounds like a lot of young men just trying to make it in this world. I read that he loved to take pictures of sunsets. He will be a part of each sunset until his story fades from my consciousness. I also know that years from now a particularly beautiful sunset will remind me of the young man that died before his time because we are all connected to each other. Our individual stories intertwine together creating a picture too big sometimes for us to see. I carry a portion of his mother’s pain in my heart even though I never knew her son.

Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Treyvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, are the names that we know, but there are so many more that we haven’t heard about, or we have somehow forgotten. But with each new killing we remember them and how their story ended, praying that this malady of hate will one day be overtaken by love, peace, compassion, empathy and humanity.

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