Whitney Plantation Gives a Voice to the Enslaved
Not yet open a month, the new attraction has attracted hundreds of visitors
For the first time in its 262-year history, the Whitney Plantation opened its doors to the public Dec. 8, 2014.
The latest addition to the African-American Heritage Trail in Louisiana, the plantation was built by African slaves for a German family. It has now been restored as a museum that takes a haunting look into the lives of enslaved men, women and children – telling their stories through exhibits, memorial artwork and hundreds of first-person narratives.
Located along the great River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, surrounded by other renowned plantations that attract tourists from around the world, Whitney Plantation offers an alternative perspective to what life was really like for the people who made the plantation owners wealthy.
New Orleans trial lawyer John Cummings bought the property in the 1990s and has spent over $7 million of his own money restoring and renovating it as a way to pay homage to all people who were enslaved.
The one-and-a-half hour walking tour takes visitors through the Creole and Greek Revival-style mansion, an overseer’s house, a blacksmith shop, the oldest kitchen in Louisiana, slave cabins, a latticed 1868 steel jail similar to the type used to restrain slaves, and a shingled African-American church.
The 250-acre property also features realistic ceramic statues of slave children in tattered clothing, along with a memorial in a former sugarcane field that takes the form of a maze of black granite walls engraved with the names of thousands of slaves.
Another emotionally stirring memorial is the “Field of Angels”, a circular courtyard listing the names of 2,200 slave babies in St. John Parish who died before their third birthdays.
The opening event on December 7 attracted 750 people. The first week of operation drew 271 visitors – including school and tour groups. One of the first groups to go through the plantation was a group of fourth and fifth grade students.
Ashley Rogers, director of museum operations at the Whitney Plantation, says that tours are slightly altered for children – steering away from such issues as rape, but they will discuss corporal punishment. Children can read first-hand accounts about how they have been beaten or taken away from their parents.
Rogers has been surprised by the amount of interest in the history of enslaved people, not only from tourists, but from people within the River Parish communities.
Tours are offered hourly from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Adults are $22, children under 12 are free (except for school or tour groups). For more information visit www.whitneyplantation.com