When my dad and I approached each plantation we visited, which were: Myrtles, Laura, Oak Alley, and Houmas House, we were always in awe of the structure. Inside each house was a beautiful mansion with rooms filled with priceless artifacts. But, behind each house were little cabins set up. These cabins were where the slaves had to live while they were forced against their will to work the land.
When we were at each plantation we learned quite a bit about the treatment of the slaves. I don’t remember much about the horror the slaves endured at Houmas House. But, I do remember the rest. At Oak Alley they had a mannequin dressed up where she was given a name. I am very sorry to say I don’t recall the name they gave her. Our tour guide told us how she would have to wait on her master and guests over dinner while they made choices that would affect her and the other slaves lives.
At the Laura Plantation we learned about the horror of sexual abuse from one of the owners Flagy Duparc who raped two of his slaves, Melanie and Henriette. This resulted in the birth of two children. The reminder of slave masters taking advantage of their own slaves for their own personal gain was heart breaking. After hearing this story I couldn’t help but wonder how many other female slaves were sexually violated and victimized by Flagy Duparc.
A the Myrtles Plantation, they talked about the brutality of torture some of the slaves received. There was one story about a slave who was standing outside a door accused of eavesdropping only to have her ear cut off. There were other ones about them being burned with fire and getting fingers and toes cut off.
Despite learning about the torture and horror these men and women had to endure there is one story that has stuck with me for the past two years. The story comes out of the Laura Plantation about a slave named Edouard. You see Edouard bravely escaped to join the Union Army during the Civil War. When he learned about a fund set up for soldiers who served in the Union Army following the war he decided he wanted part of it. However, he had returned to Louisiana and was living on Laura plantation. The only way for him to prove he served bravely was to write it all down. So, he did write all about his time served in the army day by day. He eventually was rewarded money from the fund. To this day Edouards personal hand written account is in the Library of Congress, I believe, to this day. It was a blessing to hear the story of Edouard while sitting in his house, but sadly I didn’t get any pictures.
Even though the American Civil War had freed the slaves they weren’t entirely freed. Many of them stayed on the plantation they had been working on for their entire lives earning money from their, now, employers. But, the catch was the only place they could spend their money was at the plantation store. They were forced to take what little money they had to put away to ensure they could move off the plantation one day as some how they figured there was a debt or something like that to be owed. They could buy their way off the land, but families had to worry about buying clothes for children and feeding their family. At the Laura Plantation we learned that it wasn’t until the 1970’s in Louisiana when the cabins were finally emptied of the descendants of the slaves.
The whole point behind these actions was to suppress a population. If you went against the former slave owner/employer then you had to face the horrible group the Ku Klux Klan. I am sure many of you know that the KKK had members the police and other divisions of law enforcement to help cover up lynchings and beatings done to the African American community. Sadly, there are still hate groups who do what they can to hurt and suppress the African American community today.
But, we have come a long way from the suppression of slavery as we are reminded every January with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While things today are better than they were many years ago, they are not perfect. In history class we learn about the horror the slaves had to endure on the plantations. It is a dark cloud in American history, but we must not forget what happened there. When you drive up to a plantation the first thing you see is a giant beautiful house filled with imported furniture and antiques worth a fortune. But, as soon as you step outside you see the cabins that were once filled with people who never had the chance to enjoy the luxury of their masters.
Stay safe and well!!