The plantation doesn’t allow Uber rides to or from its property, and so we booked a ride with an outfit that provides historical context even en route, as well as on-property, before the guided tour begins.
Our driver and entrepreneur, Edward, who contracts with the Whitney Plantation via his small business, Legendary Tours, walked us to a heart-stopping memorial the formal plantation tour doesn’t cover.
“Lord of the Flies” imagery whisked through my head as we came upon a memorial to about 20 mid-1800s slaves who -- inspired by a slave rebellion in Haiti -- had tried to stage their own along a huge swath of Southern Louisiana-based sugar cane plantations.
Word of their effort had leaked and so the slaves’ Herculean effort was stymied. In a sickening message to and deterrent for all other slaves, the white captors of the enslaved Africans and African-Americans, beheaded the captives and posted their heads on spikes. The historical record goes that the captors-cum-killers displayed the disembodied heads outside their plantations. A bloody and surreal scene thus greeted anyone who came upon the deadly display.
A haunting scene reminiscent of that little-known incident today is set permanently into a rectangular swath outside the plantation entrance and gift shop. Each slave known to have participated in the local rebellion is memorialized. With a black plaster cast of his or her head atop a spike, driven into the ground. A ground that was so hospitable to the cash crop of sugar cane that human beings were stolen, bred, treated worse than feral dogs -- and often murdered as a warning to others -- to cultivate it.
And our formal plantation tour had yet to begin.
While on the tour, led by our passionate guide, Ali, not only did I flash back to “Lord of the Flies,” but also to the Dachau concentration camp. When one African-American gentleman on our tour called all of America’s “peculiar institution” of slavery a “black Holocaust,” I kept my mouth shut. I maintain that nothing compares to the Holocaust. But while on the tour -- and ever after, in my mind -- I understand why and how “black Holocaust” is a very fitting phrase. As today’s Germans still are weighted down by the yoke of their Nazi past, America still shoulders the burden of an economic system that was justified up and down, right and left, such that it began in this country, lasted for hundreds of years, and stains to this very day the plight of many African-Americans and our racial fabric as a nation.
And just like there is no monument to Hitler in a public place in Germany, there no longer should be monuments to the Confederacy in the Southern United States. In a recent New York Times' piece, there’s a story about the ongoing and oft-ugly fight to remove from New Orleans itself concrete and marble vestiges of the state’s permissive slave past.
Said the icky KKK dude, David Duke, “...[T]he removals as ‘destroying our heritage.’”
Countered a young, pro-statue-removal African-American man, “They’re putting that image right in our face and saying, ‘Blacks at the bottom, whites at the top.’ That’s what they’re saying.”
New Orleans’ mayor wants the statues -- for example, of Lee and Beauregard -- removed and placed in a museum. That’s appropriate. Just like there’s a wax image of Hitler in London’s Madame Tussauds wax museum’s room for blots against humanity. The Chamber of Horrors is where perpetrators of evil belong.
Katrina was evil but was a literal force of nature, well beyond the control of many men and women. Slavery -- powerfully taught at the Whitney Plantation -- was pure evil and perpetrated entirely by man (and woman).
We returned to New Orleans after the plantation tour and saw the city in a new light. We still enjoyed ourselves and good food and drink. But less so, knowing that our strolls through the French Quarter and other exciting parts of the city took place on streets once known for slave auctions and not Sazerac, a signature drink.