Over the weekend, my colleague Ann posted an article about Whitney Plantation (http://www.whitneyplantation.com). It was not a “chandelier tour” like the others. It was actually a memorial to the people who were enslaved at the plantation and throughout Louisiana. That sounded like something I could appreciate.
We left the hotel and headed over to Wallace. It took about an hour and a half to get there. It was about 10:45 when we arrived. The next tour was at 11:00, so we purchased our tickets and waited for the tour to begin. Our tour guide was wonderful. She was a wealth of information.
Our first stop was the Antioch Baptist Church. The church had been moved to the property from another location in Louisiana. It was originally named Anti-Yoke Baptist Church. The members were anti-slavery, thus the name anti-yoke. At some point they came across the word Antioch in the Bible and decided to rename the church.
Inside the church were clay statues of African-American children. The reason for the statues was explained in a video we watched in the church. In the 1930’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the Federal Writer’s Project as part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration).
The writers went all over the country writing down stories. It was a precursor to the current Story Corps project. In the South, they talked with many former enslaved people. It had been about 50 years since emancipation, so most of the people who were still alive had been children or teenagers at that time. The clay statues represented children from the plantation whose voices told the story.
From the church, we went to three memorials on the grounds. The first memorial is the Wall of Honor. It has the names of the individuals who had been enslaved on the Whitney Plantation. Most of them only had first names. They also put the tribe of origin if known and what the individual’s job was on the plantation.
The second memorial is called Allées Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. It is a memorial to all of the individuals enslaved in Louisiana. The names came from the Louisiana Slave Database built by historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. She is quite an individual. (As an aside, she did part of her graduate work at the University of Michigan.)
The final memorial was called the Field of Angels. It is a memorial to children in Louisiana who died enslaved. The memorial is watched over by a statue of an African angel holding a baby.
Outside the Field of Angels there are two sculptures, Middle Passage and Hallelujah by sculptor Ken Smith. Hallelujah is a man with arms up stretched. It is a depiction of emancipation Smith donated the statue to the Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, VA. The museum then commissioned the other piece, Middle Passage, which depicts people being pulled into the vortex of slavery.
Because of financial problems, the museum never opened, and the Hallelujah statue sat on the property surrounded by weeds. Smith donated Hallelujah and Middle Passage to the Whitney Plantation. The Plantation has commissioned him to do more pieces on the property.
Next we stopped at the slave quarters. The houses (shacks) are not original to the property. They were brought in from another plantation, but they were actual slave quarters. Each house was set up like a duplex with a single chimney and a fireplace on each side sharing the chimney. They were sparse. If the enslaved person was lucky, they had a bed with rope lattice holding up the thin mattress. Most just had a pallet on the floor.
We saw a reproduction of a cell where individuals would have been kept until they were sold. It was a reproduction, but it was built by abolitionists to show the deplorable conditions to people in the north.
The Whitney Plantation was unusual in several ways. First, a woman, Marie Azélie Haydel, ran the plantation during its most profitable years. She managed to purchase the plantation at auction after her husband and later his brother died. Another unusual thing about the plantation is related to the kitchen. Marie had cooks prepare food for the enslaved people. Earlier, the enslaved people had to cook their own food, but Marie got tired of having to rebuild slave quarters that burned down because the enslaved people had to cook their own food.
There is so much more I could say about the Whitney Plantation. It was an amazing experience. Do yourself a favor. Go to Wallace, LA and take the tour.
We left the Whitney Plantation after the tour and headed back to Baton Rouge. On the way, we stopped for lunch in Sorrento at the Cajun Village Coffee House. I had gumbo (it came with potato salad!!). Kate had a roast beef po-boy, and Sarah had vegetarian red beans and rice (no sausage). We had beignets and Cafe Au Lait for dessert.
When we got to the hotel in Baton Rouge, we were pretty tired. We rested for awhile and then went to dinner at Don’s Seafood. I had the stuffed eggplant. Sarah had Don’s Cajun Shrimp Pasta, and Kate had red beans and catfish. It was not the best meal we had, but it was still very good.