Glimpse: The Whitney Plantation – Wallace, Louisiana
Across the south, there are numerous restored plantations preserving and celebrating the opulent history of excess and privilege of the white owners. The Whitney Plantation is the only one that tells the story from the viewpoint of the enslaved people who worked there. The plantation, which cultivated and processed sugar, is less than an hour from New Orleans on historic River Road in Wallace, Louisiana. Its French Creole raised-style main house built in 1803 is described as one of the finest surviving examples in Louisiana. Many of the original slaves on the plantation came from the Senegambia region of West Africa and are honored on memorial walls. Our guide showed us the slave quarters and described the work of a sugar plantation, a dangerous operation that used sharp machetes to chop the cane and huge pots to boil it down to crystals. Slaves who were cut or burned, which happened frequently, usually would develop infections and die. She described the “punishments” they received for different infractions – whippings, beatings, brandings – which also often caused infection and death. The guide also discussed the shift when the African slave trade was outlawed and owners forced enslaved women to have as many children as possible to replace lost slaves. The plantation, on the National Register of Historic Places, was used for several scenes in the 2012 Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained. The gift shop has books of slave history and interviews conducted by the Federal Writers Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration, in 1937-40. On a wall, visitors share their reaction to the plantation with sticky notes, including one that recalls a poem by Aeschylus that Robert Kennedy used in his speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.
The visitor concludes: WHAT YOU DO HERE IS IMPORTANT, underlining it three times.