Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a few days down in New Orleans. While I was down there, I was able to spend some time visiting the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. Whitney Plantation is a historical landmark; its origins date all the way back to the 1700s. It originated as an indigo plantation, but later transitioned to become a plantation that produced sugar. Tours of the plantation today discuss the home and the history of its white owners, but they are not the focus of the tours. Tours of Whitney Plantation today focus on those that built the home on the plantation, those that worked all day and all night, those that had needed skills but received beatings and cruelty for them. The focus of Whitney Plantation is on memorializing African slaves and their descendants.
One of the things that stuck out to me during the tour was all of the memorials they have dedicated to those who were enslaved. Memorials are always somber, but these ones felt especially somber. As we looked around at these memorials, our tour guide told us about the way that slave owners would dehumanize their property. Here are a few ways it was done:
1. Take away their name.
On these memorials, there were lots of names listed. The list was full of English and French names, but hardly any names that came from an African culture of any kind. The slave traders and slave owners refused to respect the names their property was given at birth. Our tour guide referred to this as taking away your first human right. By being given a new name, you are now told who to be instead of learning and defining who you are by yourself.
2. Take away their culture.
Under the names of the slaves, sometimes it was included where that particular slave was taken from. The locations listed were often very general though, and did not reflect the tribe or culture their ancestors came from. Slave owners did not want slaves to keep their heritage as part of their lives, because that’s part of what makes you a human. Slaves should be property, not humans.
3. Take away opportunities to learn.
Slaves were intentionally left illiterate. This was an easy way to keep them enslaved. In some cases, slaves could purchase their freedom if they earned enough money. But if the slaves couldn’t count or read, the slave owner could keep telling the slave they hadn’t earned enough to purchase freedom, therefore keeping them enslaved. Slaves were also not allowed to practice religion. They were taken from their homes and stripped of their native religions, brought to America and told to believe Christian beliefs, but then they are not allowed to practice these beliefs. Slaves were not allowed to learn or think for themselves, but instead told everything they should be and should believe.
I write this article in an attempt to inform. As human beings, we have a right to learn. We ought to use this right in order to learn from the mistakes of the past so they are not repeated. So, keep on learning.