In 2016, I was excited to travel to Louisiana! Although I was amped to go to Mardi Gras, the thing that excited me the most was the opportunity to visit the Whitney. The Whitney Plantation is a museum located outside of New Orleans that is dedicated to preserving the history of what my enslaved ancestors endured in America. Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation, it features original slave cabins, a freedman's church and memorials to commemorate those whose lives were lost. When I hear people like Kanye say that "slavery was a choice", it infuriates me. Not because of the smug and profound ignorance necessary to conclude something so erroneous, but because spaces like the Whitney are accessible for anyone who would desire to educate themselves. Visiting gave me a new appreciation for history. Read on to see pictures I took and to learn more.
Pictured in front of a slave holding quarter that enslaved people were kept in upon arriving at a plantation like this, or where they would be disciplined.
Pictured in front of a slave cabin and then in front of "master's house". What a difference in treatment! These types of living disparities continue today.
A bed in one of the slave cabins. Can you imagine doing back-breaking work from sun-up to sundown, poorly fed, just to sleep on this afterwards?
The Wall of Honor at the Whitney preserves the stories of some of those enslaved there. I cannot imagine the agony this woman endured as a "breeder".
Being in the woods made me imagine what escaping would be like, but also what the penalties were. I have never been more grateful for my freedom.
The Field of Angels is a memorial dedicated to the 2,200 children who died in St. John the Baptist Parish between the 1820's and 1860's. Can you imagine being a new mother who was forced to nurse your master's child instead of your own? Can you imagine watching your child die of malnutrition while your master's child grew strong from your milk? Many children died from malnutrition, diseases and under tragic circumstances such as drowning, burning or being hit by lightning. Artist Rod Moorehead created this statue called "Coming Home" of a black angel carrying a baby to Heaven.
One of the pensive sights on the Whitney grounds is the Antioch Baptist Church. This was a church built by formerly enslaved people in 1868. The name Anti-yoke was chosen for the purpose of proclaiming freedom, and for years it was the only African-American Church in Paulina where it was originally erected. The statues of the children are a series of sculptures created by Woodrow Nash. Their presence throughout the Whitney is sobering.
One of the things that shook me during my visit and will not let me go is the thought of how many incredible gifts, talents, skills and abilities my ancestors held that were lost to us during this 400 year period. How many artists and teachers and doctors and authors who were reduced to menial labor and inhumane treatment. It also shook me that with a 400 year headstart, those who profited from slave labor continue to be the ruling class in this country while those whose labor was exploited and uncompensated continue to make up a large section of the working class. Many of the racial disparities we observe in America find their roots in this time.
I left heartbroken, but proud. Proud that the blood that courses through my veins is of those who survived the unimaginable. Whose strength is unparalleled. I know they worked because many believed in their hearts that the day would come when their children, their children's children and all who would come after would be able to taste freedom and have opportunities that they could only dream of. I am determined to make the most of the life that was given to me in honor of them. And I count it as a privilege and a blessing to share their DNA.
To find out more about the Whitney Plantation, or to plan a visit, you can check out their website here.