11/09/2016

Oak Alley Plantation




the eviction pineapple

















On our way from Natchez to New Orleans, we made a brief pit stop at Oak Alley Plantation. It is absolutely beautiful, and probably one of the more famous plantation homes in America; it's been used as the backdrop for a number of things, from Beyoncé's Déjà Vu video to Interview with a Vampire. However, it wasn't just the beauty of the place and the incredible alley of enormous oak trees that give the place its name that impressed me, but their comprehensive acknowledgement that the home and the grounds would not have existed at all had it not been for the awful, gruesome practice of slavery.

That might seem a touch obvious - the slave trade, its complete annihilation of human rights and dignity, and total devastation of so many lives is well documented in the history books and is, or ought to be, a stain on the collective conscience of all countries who participated in it. But that wasn't what we had found so far in our trip. Slavery had somewhat been glossed over in our experiences in the plantation and antebellum homes we had visited to this point - at one point a tour guide did provide information on the value of the homeowner's slaves, as if they were a carefully curated portfolio of stocks, rather than actual human beings, but that was about as far as it got. And to be honest, it felt more like a point made to emphasise the owner's wealth, rather than a damning of history. Discussion points of other tours had circled around the business activities, social exploits and post-civil war sob stories of riches to ruin of the owners and family of the plantations, an emphasis which I felt was an effort to sweep the fact of slavery under the carpet. 

At Oak Alley however, this was not the case. True, the tour of the main house did focus on the exploits and social mores of the Roman family who lived there, including my favourite tidbit; when you had outstayed your welcome, you would wake up to find a pineapple on your bed, the old school southern sign for 'get the fuck out my house.' But, there was also an entire area of the grounds dedicated to a reconstruction of the slave cabins, explanations of how they were defined and differentiated and the punishments and hardships they had to endure. There was full frontal acknowledgment of the slaves that lived at that plantation, how the beauty and grandeur of the home and the grounds was entirely as a result of slave labour, and that it was, of course, absolutely, incomprehensibly horrific to be a slave. It was poignant and unsettling, but rightly so; such a horrible chapter of history cannot simply be glossed over to save tourists from unhappy thoughts.

I really rate Oak Alley - it's not only beautiful, but well organised, with entertaining 45 minute tours leaving every half hour, but, it has a conscience; it fully acknowledges the plight of the hundreds of Oak Alley slaves that lived there, and by extension, confronts the dark history of its existence as a whole. So, if you find yourself in Louisiana, I whole-heartedly recommend spending a few hours exploring Oak Alley.

(They also do fabulous mint juleps, just FYI)

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