The one American plantation you must visit
Often, plantations open to the public in the south offer tours which focus on the history of the slave owners, and mention very little about the enslaved people who worked the land. The Whitney Plantation, about an hour outside of New Orleans, is different. It’s a museum dedicated to the history of slavery. It’s raw, eye-opening and a must-see.
The plantation originally belonged to the Haydels, who were German immigrants. Now a museum, it has beautiful statues of enslaved children inside a historic church. There are several memorials dedicated to slaves on the property. There’s a “Wall of Honor,” listing the names of 354 enslaved people who worked on the plantation before Emancipation. It includes first-hand narratives of what life was like according to former slaves. The stories are taken from the Federal Writers Project, conducted in the 1930s. There’s also a “Field of Angels,” highlighting the 2,200 infant slaves born in St. John the Baptist Parish in the 40 years leading up to the Emancipation Proclamation, who died before their second birthday. And there’s also a massive memorial listing 117,000 names of enslaved people who lived in Louisiana, between 1719-1820.
Tours are offered hourly. The guides tell the story of slavery from a business perspective, and explain how the slave owners were able to maintain control. One interesting fact I learned was that some of the slave owners had insurance on slaves, so they didn’t care if the slaves only survived the harsh conditions for ten years. They got paid either way.
It’s one thing to read about slavery in a book, but here, you’ll get to see it, smell it, breathe it, and read first hand accounts. Walking inside those tiny slaves cabins, it was hard to imagine how eight to ten people were able to get any sleep inside. Then we walked inside the Big House and saw how the rich slave owners lived in comparison. Walking out of the slave cabins, and thinking of my own home , I remembered how much I had to be grateful for.
The plantation is in the middle of nowhere and to this day, there’s still lots of swamps and wooded areas, making it difficult to escape. Visiting there and reflecting on the experience really put into perspective what the ancestors went through.
Inside the main building, there’s also a museum with plaques detailing slavery in Louisiana, known to be the worst form with its extremely hot summers and sugar plantations. There’s also a great selection of rare books about slavery, including books with stories from the Federal Writers’ Project, which include first-hand narratives of slavery in the South.
I chose to go during the Essence Festival, renting a car for the day to get there.The rich cultural experience was worth it. The stories will break your heart.
The museum is open everyday except for Tuesday and select holidays. Admission is $23 for adults and $10 for children.