Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tattered Remnants: Photo Essay

Tattered Remnants of Our Dark History 

No Rug to Sweep It Under: Slave Shack

Photos taken on the grounds of Laura, A Creole Plantation, St. James Parish, Vacherie, LA  July 2011 by Ginger Long Glynn

The idea of visiting, or touring a plantation is not one that ever appealed to me, yet when I visited my son in New Orleans in the summer of 2011, it became a consideration and then, a reality.  After seeing the oil-riddled beaches along Mississippi and Alabama, a self-guided swamp tour, and a few trips, but not enough, to Café du Monde, the French Quarter, the Marigny and the Garden District, the plantation tour became a planned destination of some interest.  I did, however, continue to approach this visit half-heartedly.  For me, plantations symbolize slavery, not the wealth of the genteel, or the funding source of all things southern hospitality.  I couldn’t help feeling it would be like visiting the homes of some officers in the Third Reich with the intent to admire their taste.  I tried to find comfort somehow, and perhaps logic, or rationality in remembering the history of the wealth behind the great estates along the Hudson.  I have greatly enjoyed visiting the Hudson Valley estates.  These fortunes of course, were built on the backs of immigrants and the underclasses.  Wealth for a few comes at a great cost to many.  
I carefully chose Laura Plantation, a plantation run by 4 generations of Creole women.  As I drove along the Mississippi, my eldest son read about the history of the plantation. He shared that there was a “slave cabin” on the grounds.  It was clear as we got closer, there were “slave cabins” all along River Road, some inhabited, others abandoned.  As I pointed these out, we grew quiet. We passed several mansions that were in disrepair and a few that had recently been renovated, soon to be added to the growing plantation tour route.  

The Laura Plantation was fascinating.  It was surrounded by tropical plants and vibrant flowers. It seemed more of a Caribbean inspired mansion, than it's Antebellum counterparts.  I wanted to believe that it was somehow softer to slavery because women had managed and controlled it.  Laura Locoul-Gore was the great granddaughter of Guillaume DuParc, a French naval veteran of the American Revolution.  DuParc, commissioned the land from Thomas Jefferson, as a reward for serving the country, and for his new loyalty to the nation.  He died three years after the home was constructed, leaving his wife to manage the plantation. He started with seven slaves. When his wife could no longer run it, she appointed her youngest daughter to have control.   She was believed to be the most capable, not because they did not have male heirs. In the 1830's Elisabeth DuParc purchased 30 teenage girl slaves with the intention of having them impregnated.  (It was as difficult to write that last statement as it is to think about it.  Industrialized rape, is what it conjures.) During the 1850’s the DuParc Plantation inhabited 175 slaves for the production of sugar. The slave cabin that was photographed, was built in 1840.  It was at one time, among  65 cabins built on the land. The cabins were inhabited on the grounds of the plantation until 1977.  

The ancient west-African tales, Compair Lapin, better known as "Br'er Rabbit" were recorded in this cabin by Alcee Fortier, a neighbor of Laura Lacoul.  Fortier later became the Dean of Foreign Languages at Tulane University and the president of the American Folklore Society.  He published Louisiana Folktales.  A year later his friend and colleague, Joel Chandler Harris, published Tales of Uncle Remus.  (I would prefer to be writing that Alcee Fortier helped set the slaves free, but I realize my idealistic, hopeful mind-set has difficulty fully comprehending the harsh and cruel realities of humanity.)

What I saw, and could not look away from, were the muted tones reflected in the walls and floors of the rooms, which inspired the photographs.  The natural light washed upon the paint-faded wood-grain of the walls.  Contrasting pastels evoked beauty and tenderness, sorrow and grief, a gentle reminder of our nations darkened history.  The tattered remnants of the gingham curtain, or perhaps makeshift door, remain on the door frame providing the threadbare fabric of a regions history.  

The broom in the corner of the room, one of the last remaining artifacts of life here seems to convey pride and functionality.  The bareness and starkness, in  contrast with the main house, made it difficult to ignore.  There was no rug to sweep it under, to tidy, or present a less harsh version of what it meant to be owned by another.  And still there is beauty and pride emanating from these now almost bare walls and floors.

The idea of “the jumping broom” was brought to my attention in relation to the broom depicted, and the slave cabin.  “Jumping the broom” is a wedding tradition originating from West Africa, meant to signify the entrance into a new life.  The newly married couple joins hands and jumps over the broom,  "sweeping away" former, single lives.  Sweeping away enslaved lives, the broom remains.

No comments: