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Whitney Plantation: The Only Plantation Museum in Louisiana With A Focus on Slavery

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Last summer, we visited Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. I think one of the best ways to make sense of the experience is from this CBS video



This isn't another 'big beautiful plantation house' tour. John Cummings, a New Orleans lawyer, put $8M into what started as in investment and instead led him to develop the 'Nation's First Slavery Museum'. It's a guided tour (admission: $22/adult, plus guide gratuity) -- and there's no going about the grounds on one's own. First stop: Antioch Baptist, moved to this site.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

The statues of children here and elsewhere on the tour are by Woodrow Nash (more about him in an upcoming post). Their presence and positioning here is striking.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Here, the 'big house' -- home to the Haydel family
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Very little of the tour is spent in the house -- maybe ten minutes of the 1.5-2 hour tour.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Yes to tester beds and the like, but the furnishings on display are not the resplendent luxe that one usually sees on River Road mansion tours. It's just not the focus here.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

The murals around the home are by Milan-born Dominico Canova, an important New Orleans-based painter who worked in homes, hotels, and churches. He and Antoine Mondelli painted the ceiling at Our Lady of the Lake; Canova also painted frescos at St. Alphonsus and is believed to have painted at St. Louis Cathedral, but there's inconclusive evidence. He's believed to have painted the murals at the San Francisco plantation (though probably not unaided) and here at the Whitney:
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

There are so many stories to tell here, but the museum is such that I really implore you if you ever have the opportunity (and it's only about an hour from New Orleans) to visit and hear these first-hand. They can't possibly be done justice here.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Carriage House
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Here, the types of cells that slaves would have been imprisoned in; these cells were manufactured in Philadelphia. These were brought here when the grounds were being set up for tours -- they aren't original to this plantation. Part of the narrative given to us here is that northern companies knew what was going on, profited and aided the south in this awful business.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Rows of slave homes
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

There were 22 slave cabins on the site (downriver from the 'Big House') prior to the War, and most were destroyed in the 1970s when the road was made wider. Two of these houses are original to the plantation, and the others were brought here from Myrtle Grove Plantation in Terrebonne Parish.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

This sculpture, The Longboat, is by Ed Williams of Houston. The longboat was used in situations in which the large slaveships couldn't reach (shallow depths to land, up rivers, etc).
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Here, the Allees Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, the names of 107k people held in bondage in Louisiana from 1719-1820, with the research on those names done by the aforementioned Ms Hall.
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

When I asked our guide where the slaves here were buried, he laughed at me (seriously, he looked right at me and laughed). He said there was no such thing as a cemetery. I explained that while I wasn't expecting some well-manicured lawn with impressive monuments, surely there was some plot/strip of land here or elsewhere close by that was used for the purpose, and where that might be. He thought it was a ridiculous notion that the slaveholders here at the plantation would designate any land for such a purpose for the disposal of dead slaves. I let it drop. But surely there is some place at Whitney or nearby which served as a cemetery in any definition. Perhaps an archaeological survey could take place if it can not be located. There's one ongoing at Mount Vernon.

From April in the NYT: Why Slaves' Graves Matter

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

The last stop is back inside the welcome center, where people are encouraged to leave their thoughts on post-its
Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

Whitney Plantation, Wallace LA

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