"The folks who live around here, a lot of them are descendants of Whitney slaves," T-Chae explained as the tour came to an end. Freedom may have come after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but money didn't. "Most people just became sharecroppers in the area because they didn't have the means to leave," she said.
When asked, she allowed that, yes, she is a descendant of slaves. In fact, she believes that her great-great-grandfather lived in the very cabin we had passed through.
"For me, this is personal," she said.
Cummings hopes that the slavery experience grows more personal to every Whitney Plantation visitor.
"We live under a tremendous weight of slavery now," he told journalists with the Atlantic after the museum opened. "And this isn't black history we're talking about. This is our national history. It's my history. It's your history."
Inside the visitors center, a wall has been turned over to people's reflections as they learn about -- and grapple with -- slavery. It has come to look like a patchwork quilt of pink, blue and yellow Post-it notes, stitching together a communal response. They speak of slavery's reverberations through generations, of heartbreaking lessons, of anger, forgiveness and transcendence.
One begins, "I am changed."
IF YOU GO
Visitors to the plantation take guided tours, which offer perspectives on its monuments and buildings, including the Spanish Creole mansion, a free-standing kitchen and a swamp created onsite to show the conditions in which some escaped slaves hid.
It is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays and major holidays (including Mardi Gras Day). Tours occur every hour, last about an hour and a half, and are popular. Buy tickets online before you go. The timed-entry tickets cost $22; less for students, seniors, members of the military and children.
The plantation, in Wallace, La., is about an hour's drive from the heart of New Orleans. The website lists tour operators and a car service (under the "visit" tab).
For more information, go to whitneyplantation.com.
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