Last month during our Louisiana trip we spent an afternoon about an hour outside of New Orleans to experience a slave plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. The Whitney Plantation was built by African slaves and opened up as a museum a couple years ago to share the lives and stories of the slaves who were on the plantation and throughout the South. It was a very moving experience and one of the first times I have ever felt any connection to my African American roots.
As a biracial girl who was raised primarily by my mother (who is white) and me having very fair skin, I’ve always had an extremely hard time connecting to my African American roots. People like to think of it as a game when they learn I’m biracial and some even accuse me of lying. I have features like thick, naturally curly hair and other facial characteristics but knowing so little about that side, it seemed to fade and I never had the chance to learn or connect with it. Exploring this plantation I felt a really deep and unexpected connection that I’ve never had before to this side of my ancestry. Some more thoughts on this at the end of the post.
ANTICH BAPTIST CHURCH
We began our tour at the Antich Baptist Church. The one on-site is a donated structure but the church was the only African-American church in the surrounding area for many years. When you walk in you’re greeted by the Children of Whitney, sculptures made to depict enslaved children all around the property by artist Woodrow Nash.
The installation is a really striking part of the museum. It contributed to the experience and makes the entire thing feel much more real. When you sign up you’re given these small cards with different names, a quote, and a photo of one of these sculptures. The quotes are all different and from former slaves. When you enter the church you can match up the photo on your card to one of the sculptures and it brings the whole installation to life as you now put a face and a passage to one of these figures.
Part of the Allées Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Memorial. The plantation has this huge memorial dedicated to those who were enslaved in Louisiana. I took many photographs but I’m a bit wary of sharing them here as some of the stories are very graphic for this particular blog. Reading them was quite surreal as you start to put together the very real truth that people treated other people in this manner. We hear about it and study it in history but walking this path painted a very honest and depressing picture about what happened on this property. I was really moved and would have liked to spend more time focusing on it.
The Field of Angels, a memorial dedicated to the slave children in Louisiana who passed away while enslaved.
The Big House
I must say the Big House is very beautiful. The gardens and trees that line it are really stunning and everything you would expect from a classic southern plantation. And you can’t deny they are stunning to look at! It’s said to be one of the best-preserved examples of “Spanish Creole architecture”. You can also get a glimpse of the inside as you go from the back to the front of the home, including up to the second-floor balcony where you get a really amazing landscape view of the entire property.
The tour came with many historic explanations which were extremely helpful to learn more about what was happening at that particular time. Another, newer Memorial recently opened as well but they were very adamant about letting people choose whether or not they wanted to see it as it could be considered graphic. I decided to follow that advice here and not post photographs of it. They were individual sculptures of just rows of heads with the names of those who were executed as part of the 1811 German Coast Uprising revolt. Those who were executed had their heads on display as a scare tactic to other slaves so the museum was recreating that in its Memorial.
It was a really strange feeling that washed over me while reading the passages about these people. A bit of disbelief as to what I was reading as well as the realization that my ancestors were probably part of this. That was something I never truly acknowledged and I felt it heavily while touring this museum which was unexpected. I’m not sure if my connection was a result of this unexplored side of my race and ancestry or if it was just such a beautifully put together tour but does it matter? It was a very moving experience. I am still reflecting while writing this but it felt important to share it with you. It’s not the most uplifting of activities but I would really recommend it for anyone looking to see and really experience a southern plantation.
In other news: Our Little Black Book for Louisiana is almost done! Make sure to sign up for our Postcard Club to know when it’s ready. You’ll see my favorite places to eat, more experiences and upcoming events happening in New Orleans and Louisiana.