I first learned of The Whitney Plantation via this New York Times article. Opened a few years now, it is one of the most important memorials of enslavement that exists in our country and I knew when I got the chance I’d go. And so when I made my travel arrangements to go to New Orleans for the American Library Association’s annual convention, I arranged to go a day early so as to visit the museum. I then researched tours and found Let’s Just Ride LLC. Joyce picked us up at our various hotels, gave us a remarkable and fascinating tour as she drove us to and from the Whitney, elegantly bringing her own family history, Katrina, and older history. I cannot recommend her enough.
We spent two hours at the Whitney in an outstanding, carefully designed tour. The thought, research, and more done for this experience is simply outstanding. During the rest of my time in New Orleans, others who had also visited the site felt the same. I have consciously avoided other plantation tours due to their privileged white/owner perspective, but this one turned that on its head. The viewpoint is completely that of the enslaved starting with the 40 statues of enslaved children by artist Woodrow Nash set throughout the plantation, each honoring one of those interviewed by the Federal Writers Project — young when enslaved.
There are several memorials:
- The Wall of Honor is dedicated all the people who were enslaved on Whitney Plantation. The names and the information related to them (origin, age, skills) were retrieved from original archives and engraved on granite slabs. (from the Whitney Plantation site)
- The Field of Angels is a section of the slave memorial dedicated to 2,200 Louisiana slave children who died in St. John the Baptist Parish. These names are documented in the Sacramental Records of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Their names are engraved on granite slabs along with quotes describing their everyday life. A bronze sculpture depicting a black angel carrying a baby to Heaven is installed in the middle of the field. Rod Moorhead of Mississippi is the sculptor. (from the Whitney Plantation site)
- The 1811 Slave Revolt Memorial. Please read about this intentionally disturbing and necessary memorial here.
You are taken through a series of spaces, starting with The Antioch Baptist Church which was donated and then relocated to the plantation. There are seven slave cabins, two of which are original to the plantation, kitchens, barns, and more. Lastly, you come to the Big House from the back and the guide informs you about the harsh lives of the domestic enslaved who maintained the comfortable lifestyle of the owners and their families.
The Whitney’s website is a wealth of information I’ve been using when teaching about this to my fourth graders, but, of course, best is going in person and so urge everyone who can to visit this important place.