New Orleans has to be one of the best cities in the world. The history, the food, the people, the art — the list of reasons why you should love NOLA is endless. My first time visiting was in the fall of 2015. Being from St. Louis, I could appreciate the rich French history and the climate. Walking on Bourbon St. and drinking wasn’t fulfilling to me, I wanted to learn more about the city’s rich culture and the people who inhabited it.
Enter the Whitney Plantation tour: About 40 minutes outside of downtown NOLA was a quiet, beautiful piece of land. However, once on the tour, that feeling of quiet escaped me. I felt anxious. It was a feeling most similar to visiting a cemetery. From my first step, I was reminded of the pain, suffering and history that I was about to experience.
The Whitney Plantation was a sugar cane plantation. Harvesting sugar cane is one of the most difficult tasks a slave could have. A mixture of the Louisiana heat plus physically extracting the cane was painful. A poor working condition mixed with the emotional stress of slavery, combined with the pressure of physical harm is no way to live — but they did. Our ancestors woke up day after day and worked their fingers to the bone, sometimes burning them. To harvest sugar cane, huge iron barrels acted as the “mixing bowl” each day. Imagine children working with temperatures of at least 200 degrees.
Women worked daily as well — mostly in small “kitchens.” No rewards, no money, no nothing…just pain. It opened my eyes to the psychological trauma they must have felt. To wake up every day and to feel less than human, despite the fact that you, too, were of flesh and bones. Once I understood their day-to-day life, I understood why our community is severed and suffering in 2016. The effects of slavery reach far beyond 1865. Slavery is a part of this country’s foundation and its legacy. To think about a world without slavery is to think about a world without the U.S., without America.
Stepping into the “homes” of the slaves was heart-wrenching. Up to 10 people could inhabit one small room with one bed. That bed was usually saved for the elders but the bed itself was nothing to marvel over. It was hard to imagine waking up every day and having to go work for my life with no possibility that I’d someday be free.
My life finally came into perspective. I’m not one of those black people trying to force other blacks to vote, read or become an activist because our ancestors could not but I better understand why people said those things to me. We take our life, our liberty and our luxuries for granted. I think that I can appreciate what life I was spared — slaves didn’t ask to be born into a life of servitude. I am fortunate, and so are you. If this entire experience did not teach me that, looking at our people’s former living conditions definitely did.
My time at the Whitney Plantation was life-changing. I only got to dive in on a fraction of the things I experienced during my visit, but I hope this encourages you to find a tour and explore this part of our history for yourself. Make sure you find a tour that’s trying to give you the truth about slavery and not some romantic narrative that didn’t exist. Slavery was horrific, it was traumatic and our society is still suffering from its negative impact on black people and society as a whole.
To learn more about the Whitney Plantation please visit their website here.