Touching History

This semester, I decided to take a Latin and Caribbean studies class in order to fulfill my African American Diaspora requirements for my major. Also, I realized that I was ignorant when it came to history of the America’s, so this class caught my eye. In the beginning of the semester, my professor told me that we were going to take a trip to a New Orleans plantation and learn how to begin research on our genealogy. However, I was a little skeptical about taking a trip to a plantation. I had heard that most plantations glorify the lifestyle of the white slave owners and ignore the brutal parts of slavery. Thankfully, my professor said, “The Whitney plantation tour is a unique experience. You will really see history.” That was enough for me to have full faith that this trip was worth the adventure.

Kitchen Plantation
 Night before the Trip

Now, I have wanted to learn who my ancestors were for a very long time. As a child, my curiosity never ended. I wanted to know what part of Africa they came from and when my family first arrived to America. How were they able to travel on boats across the Atlantic Ocean successfully, while many other people died? I had 101 questions.

I expressed my curiosity to my father, the day before the class trip. He knew almost nothing about his family. Except for a couple of stories he could recall that my late aunt told him.

My father said, “My great grandfather’s last name was McCullen and he changed his name to Walker after slavery.”

We did our research and found nothing. Then, my dad called his cousin, Brenda McFallen, in St. Charles, La. She said, “You know Michael has done a lot of research on this already. He can tell you everything. Oh and by the way, the Walker bloodline actually travels back to Asia.”  My father looked at each other in SHOCK! We are ASIAN?

Then we gave our cousin a call. Reader click here to learn about the rest of the story.

Day of the Trip

As the bus pulled up to the plantation, I was amazed. I saw slave cabins.

This was not the usual image of a plantations one could find on Instagram wedding photos.

As we descended the bus, we walked into the welcoming area. A wall of post-it-notes covered a wall with messages from visitors. One wall said this, “Donald Trump should take a visit”.  This was when I knew this trip was going to be impactful.

A few minutes later, we walked over to the church where we conducted the genealogy workshop. The presenter gave obvious tips to conducting genealogy searches, she was all together boring. However sitting in that church, I was taken back in history. Throughout the plantation, there are replicas of little children, without eyes. When you peer into the eyes, it feels like your soul connects to the soulless child. It made me put myself in their shoes. I felt uncomfortable, yet connected to them.

They Haydel House Slave
Walking the Tour

In the beginning of the tour, we were introduced to a wall of names of the people who were slaves on the plantation. Next, we were brought to more walls that told brutal stories of slaves that were documented during the Great Depression. Wow, some of these people lived to be slaves and dealt with the Great Depression.

Reading these walls was like intruding on someone else’s hell.

As we continued walking, the tour guide unveiled more truth and history to me. The most humbling part was hearing the work that these people had to do, with the lack of basic necessities they had to complete it with.  Even now, as I write, it is hard for me to continue my thoughts because of the emotion that sparks from being in the setting that the slaves were in. When I walked into the slave cabins, I felt guilty. This was someone’s reality. I complain all the time about sharing a room with my sister, when they shared living spaces with almost eight people.

They slept on the floor, while I write this piece on my fluffy mattress.
Traditional Slave Bed

In black culture, black people have several pigmentations. As a dark-brown skin girl, I am often called black, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there is a connotation that lighter skinned black people are beautiful. In addition, lighter skin people during slavery generally meant they were house slaves, while darker skin meant that you were a field slave. I have cousins who have less melanin than my part of the family, but this notion of lighter is fair, always stuck with me.

It was not until this tour that I realized that slavery in general sucked.

No one had it better than the other. House slaves were psychologically destroyed because they were raped, tending to every little need for the family. Field slaves were physically pushed to their limit, working day and night with little food.

Slave Cabins at the Planation

Reader, this tour presented honest history.  The work that the Whitney Plantation did was powerful. Everyone should go and experience this tour. It opens your eyes up to the cruelty and torture that our ancestors went through. The Whitney Plantation is even stronger because the descendants of the slaves at this plantation are the Haydels, who have a strong lineage in New Orleans. They can smile and say to those before them,

“We are doing good y’all. We are thriving in a country that ripped you of your humanity.”



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