Teaching and Learning About Slavery: The Whitney Plantation

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.

 

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Teaching the Transatlantic Slave Trade to Fourth Graders

I spent much of last week with my colleagues and administrators examining our teaching of this difficult topic. The work was challenging, uncomfortable at times, but also exciting. I am so grateful to my IPOC colleagues who pushed us to think hard and helped us to change what we were doing for the betterment of our students. I also so appreciate my white colleagues who were open and willing to change even when it meant dropping beloved pieces of curriculum. I look forward to our teaching this coming year and working closely to assess what works and what doesn’t and how to keep doing better.

 

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Remembering Harry: A Comic Experience

It being the twenty year anniversary of the Harry Potter books, I’ve been invited to be part of a panel at ALA featuring Brian Selznick (Sunday at 12 at the Pop Stage). This made me look back at my many HP posts. Here’s a favorite (click on the images to see better versions of them) done shortly before the final book came out:

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I just got a new computer and spent the last week at school playing with some software I hadn’t tried before including the very fun Comic Life. Of course, I’m still playing! (Pardon the cut-off lines and at least one very awkward line — too hard to edit these once they’ve been exported.)

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Latest Amazon Review of Africa is My Home

While I did love the reviewer who seemed to think my book was a knife (which amazon seems to have finally removed), this person also has a perspective I haven’t seen before.

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Hard Listening

I’ve been doing a lot of in-person and social media listening these days. I have for years, but recent conversations have made me do some serious reflecting on systemic racism and my part in it.  Say by supporting it by smugly thinking I’m better than certain of my fellow good white folk. Instead of this wasted and wrong-headed thinking, I need to do the work with them, take responsibility for it as a fellow white person of privilege. I need to push myself harder to get past my own limitations due to introversion and personal background, to figure out how to speak up more no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel. Most of all, I need to never stop listening and learning, especially from those who challenge me, who push me to reconsider, to change, to do better. Fellow privileged white people: we’ve got a lot of work to do.

 

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That Disney Christopher Robin Film?

Surprisingly (at least for me who hates the Disney Pooh cartoons), the trailer is pretty darn charming.

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About That Royal Wedding

Until yesterday morning I had just about no interest in the wedding. To be honest, not following it closely, I wondered why so many were so engaged. What, I wondered, made this British monarchy so compelling still? Especially for us in the United States? I was aware that the bride was American and bi-racial, divorced, and not exactly “typical” for the British royal family. Nonetheless, when people wrote of getting up early to watch the event, to have parties, etc I smiled bemused and went on with my work.

However, it so happened that I am a very early riser and so, yesterday,  happened upon a report that the service was starting and thought — why not check in? So I did, with mild curiosity, and was blow away. For I came in just as Bishop Michael Curry began, and that was that — I was solidly in.

I’ve been working intensely on a new project featuring the slave trade and much of my research has been about the British involvement. And so seeing the descendants of perpetrators and the enslaved marrying, being part of the celebration, in that ancient tradition was incredible, for me tear-inducing.  FWIW, here are my tweets (first are at the bottom) as I watched:

  • No one should allow the  to make them think it proves things are okay. They are not. It does show that the world has changed for the good in this one small case. (Small for all the wedding is big.)
  • Listening to “This Little Light of Mine” and watching those horses and carriages that were long ago the exclusive traveling method of slave owners, my goodness.
  • More gospel!!!!!
  • Doesn’t change the horrors of today, but I’m so moved by  all the same. For just an hour we can see that the world has changed.
  • Watching such prominent descendants of those who perpetuated and suffered during the eons of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is surprisingly moving.
  • Been so deep into Britain and slave trade so seeing this happening … is tear-provoking.
  • Ben. E King’s Stand By Me now being sung by a gospel choir.
  • Don’t care about dresses and celebs much, but this ceremony is amazing. Reverend Michael Curry
  • “Dr. King was right. We must discover love.” Reverend Michael Curry
  • Okay, changed my mind. I tuned into the  in time to hear Bishop Michael Curry preaching and it is extraordinary.

I do hope this pushes the Royal Family to make some big statements about their family’s complicity in the slave trade. It is overdue.

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