the last of my posts about New Orleans – we hired a car to see the outside of New Orleans -our first stop being Ponchatrain Lake – with a bite to eat at the Freniers Landing – a large shack on stilts right on the waters edge with views all round. its only about half an hours drive from the city, through swamps and marshes, the road is perched on pillars and the landscape pretty flat. it was actually very cold and windy that day, a massive 10 degrees C drop in temperature from the day before – the weather really can change day by day in this area, so make sure that you are prepared.
our next stop was the Whitney Plantation – a plantation which has been restored specifically as an education centre to tell the story of slavery – through museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana’s enslaved peoples. Local African American guides take you round what is essentially a museum on the grounds of a former plantation, it is dedicated to providing the story of the history of slavery in the United States. it is very moving and also disturbing reading the marble memorial stones engraved with the names of the slaves who lived and died along this stretch of the Mississippi. But these are stories we need to know.
discussing the institution of slavery in American history can seem like a difficult and complex conversation to have. The challenge to educators is how to present this topic in both a meaningful and authentic way. the relevance of this part of American history in our contemporary conversations of the past, is demonstrated by the passions this topic arouses.using the Whitney Plantation Museum as the entry point to the discussion of this topic, students will learn about the history of those who were enslaved on plantations in the American South and whose labour built the country.
it really is bleak viewing, but essential to understand how this part of the country developed its cultural richness – the music and food are all direct influences of these once enslaved African people and it’s what makes New Orleans the great city it is today.
we then made our way to Houmus House Plantation – a stark contrast to the Whitney; one New Orleans businessman has personally restored a plantation and its grounds into one of splendour – recreating life at its most decadent, with landscaped gardens, fountains, conservatories (where numerous conferences and weddings are now held). you can have a tour around the original plantation house, completely filled with antiques and furniture sourced to reflect its past and the family who would have lived there. Apparently there were once 200 plantations along this stretch of the river and now there are only 14 left intact – the rest were either torn down or burned or left to fade in their delapidated state. It is important that these houses are making a conscious effort to acknowledge the enslaved peoples who also lived and toiled in these houses and to inspire in us a more rounded world view.
I do think its important to see life outside of New Orleans – a day trip would suffice to take this all in – both plantations are within an hours drive to the city and it really made me read up on the history of the area. its definitely a wonderful trip, I would say you need 4 – 5 nights minimum to get over the jet lag and long journey, but there are now direct flights and it really is a memorable warm trip.