Hidden History: Plantation brings dark past into the light

Black History Month

More than 200 years ago, hundreds of men, women and children called the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana home. But home didn’t mean happiness or freedom.

 “We know that they longed for freedom, they sustained each other through their families, through each other,” said Joy Banner, the director of marketing for the Whitney Plantation.

For years, the Whitney Plantation was hidden from view until the property was bought by John Cummings, who opened it to the public.  Cummings documented not only the past ownership of Whitney, but also found records on the enslaved people who lived and died there.

Back then, when the master rang the bell at any given moment, it would mean, an ever-present knowledge–that someone is in control of your schedule– that you had to answer to someone for almost every minute of your life.

“I would imagine or suspect their thoughts were of the long day ahead,” Banner said.

Some like Betty Thomas-Ledet, a Baton Rouge resident, vividly describes what she believes life was like on the grounds day in and day out.

”Slavery impacted black mentally, physically, financially, and spiritually, and all of that plays over into today, those particular things that happened to them,” Thomas-Ledet said.

Walking the plantation, one will get a feel for the horrible day-to-day lives that the slaves encountered through restored living quarters, memorial artwork, and through personal account narratives.

On memoriam walls at the plantation are the names of 120,000 enslaved Louisianians. Stories of pain and suffering along with stories of perseverance.  Stories that weren’t being told about the brutality – being bull whipped for protecting your children, or wanting a biscuit to eat. 

Once the slaves were bought and sent to Whitney Plantation — many refused to conform to their new way of life.

“Some were active, turned out to be violent rebellions.But there were other things that they did in order to resist and some of that, even the act of committing suicide, which is something that’s never talked about.  A horrendous fact that’s never talked about in slavery,” Banner said.

Slave labor, toiling the land, working from sun up to sun down, but still having hope that one day, they could be seen as a people they knew they were.

“These were Americans, just like we are Americans today. They were humans, they wanted the same things that you want, wanted that freedom,” Banner said.

While we can’t change what happened, some like John Cummings, through Whitney Planation, educate people by sharing real stories during a dark time in history.

Cummings is restoring the Whitney plantation one building at a time.  He said his vision is to make the plantation an education center for all people, so that what happened here will never happen again.

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