". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Whitney Plantation Museum

Today we visited the wonderful work in progress, the Whitney Plantation Museum.  The Whitney's proprietor, who educated seven of his eight children at Metairie Park Country Day School, invited us to visit after Wednesday evening's presentation there from The American Slave Coast. Thus, we had the privilege of personal guidance within what is now there now on the Whitney, and what further the proprietor is dreaming into existence via the application of very much very hard work, very much expense, a very discerning eye and a fine sensibility. Mr. JC  thinks he has disdain for dreaming and is interested only doing -- but what's he doing, he's doing because he thought of it, dreamed it, first.  He sees what will be and works with his whole soul to make be now. (He's a retired, notable trial counsel.)

This isn't a plantation museum like any other one already existing or in the process of being resurrected as a tourist destination.

Mr. JC is creating a memorial to all the slaves who worked and died in Louisiana, and to the slaves on the Whitney in particular.  It’s not difficult for perceive the entire entity as an enormous altar, composed of many interlocking moving parts. An historical slave labor plantation was a factory-prison of many interlocking moving parts, the most important of the parts, the laborers.

The plantation chapel is filled with sculpture replicas of the Whitney’s children – whom John knows all by name.  The sculptures are filled with life and presence. The children see you. They are judging, though neither cruel nor kind, just present. The sculptor who has called them back from the past is Rod Moorhead.  Behind the chapel is the Field of Angels, dedicated slave children. Presiding over this Memorial is a beautiful black angel, wings sweeping out, protectively receiving a tiny infant in her arms. One of the Field of Angels memorial plaques reads:
The Field of Angels is in honor of the 2200 slave infants born in St. John the Baptist parish who perished prior to the second birthday.  They were deposited in earthen holes on the plantations and occasionally at the catholic church cemetery.
Behind this memorial surrounded by willows weeping veils of spring green gauze are other commemorative art, which, so far is represented by a classic columned octogonal gazebo. Like the chapel this extensive area too is a deeply spiritual space. Because the children are called by name these are places of power, that contain both peace and sorrow. Sorrow for this terrible world human beings dreamed into existence for the sake of selfish, greedy convenience. Peace because John is a magician who has created a world to come, a world of healing for the world of evil passed away far too late.

After the tour we were guided back to the present by a cajun lunch at the B & C Seafood Restaurant on Highway 18.

Our second guide into Whitney's past is Ibrahima Seck. He drove us to the plantation and back again (el V and Ibahima had met more than once previously, but this was my first opportunity to spend time with this brilliant historian and scholar). What he has to say when talking about American blues is informative and exciting, as is everything else he thinks about. (Blues ultimately has its roots in the music Ibrahima grew up on, among other things that makes him so well educated in the elements of the form.)

On the way back, filled with gratitude for the riches of this day, I was able to be peacefully silent, able to witness the beakneck speed the swamp world's spring time renewal. We drove out from New Orleans between 10 and 11 AM and back from the Whitney between 4 and 5 PM.  In that time the trees all along the highway had burst into bloom. The female of the current twenty-some generation of a bald eagle family that has held that huge nest visible from the highway, had gone into brood mode -- or maybe egg laying? She wasn't in the nest in the morning, but flapping and perching alternately as we drove along the highway.  While we went and returned she decided to get to her business.

Spring is here, if not there ....

And, our faces are fairly finely sunburned.

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