Black History Fun Fact Friday – Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation

On this day in 2016, I posted about a former slave plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana I visited that weekend. I shared my experience on this blog, but I never made it a Black History Fun Fact. As the memory popped up in my Facebook archives, I decided to add it to the collection. Below is the original post for those of you who were not following me in 2016 and never saw this.


Originally Published on 11/28/2016

I took a week off to unplug and to spend time with my family. In addition to camping, we visited the Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

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Reading and watching movies about slavery is one thing, but touring a former slave plantation is an entirely different experience. I didn’t get very emotional, but I will say for now that gratitude is my best way of describing it—appreciation for all the comforts I enjoy in my life that my ancestors paid for with their blood. As the sun lowered and we prepared to leave, I thought about what they would be doing at this time of the day. I thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines or, perhaps, still working.

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Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton.

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The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.

The Overseer’s House

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Overseers were the middlemen of the Antebellum South’s plantation hierarchy. Sometimes they were white men working for the slave owner, and other times they were enslaved men hired to rule over their brothers. The “masters” expected overseers to maintain a workforce of slaves to produce a crop. The enslaved were the overseer’s responsibility. He was to keep them working by any means necessary. In return, he got to occupy his own cabin or possibly get a bit more food. The perception was that because his job was “better,” he himself was better off, but he was still an enslaved person.

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Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove!

I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.

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Slave Quarters turned Home of Sharecroppers

After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land up until the 1970s. They worked twelve hours a day, six days a week.

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Wash House

Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in this wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire, earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress. All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer.

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Bemuda Store

Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983.

1983?!

The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also ran the Post Office located inside.

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Carpenter Shop

Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.

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Mule Barn

Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, the plantation reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.

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Cane Syrup Pot

Used to make cane syrup.

On some plantations, they used these pots to punish the enslaved and to boil them alive (as depicted in the movie “Mandingo.” CLICK HERE to see the clip.)

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The Big House

This is the porch and perimeter of “The Big House.” We could tour everywhere except for this house. We were not allowed inside, and they did not give us a reason why.

It was overwhelming to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the Louisiana sun, and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees lined the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were planted in 1825.

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Strangers Room

I don’t know what a stranger’s room is (guest room?), but it’s a room in the big house. I tried to take pics of the inside from the window. It looks like the original furniture is still preserved.

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Carriage House

The carriage house dates to 1820. In its earlier years, the east bay was used as a horse stall. The overseer had the horse saddled each day and tied to the chain so that it was available for riding and checking the fields.

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Square Corn Crib and Cistern

The Corn Crib was built around 1821 of hand-hewn cypress logs and was used to store grain for the plantation. Rainwater was channeled from the crib roof into the cistern, which was 16 ft deep and held 4804 Gallons of water used for watering stock.

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Pigeoneer

There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’ Hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab.”

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Chicken Coop

Husband checking out the Chicken Coop.

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Fattening Pen

Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.

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Randoms

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What I carried home with me was an even deeper appreciation for those little things we take for granted every day. I was headed back to the campsite to sleep in a tent, but I knew that eventually, I’d be going home to a hot shower, a full meal, and a warm bed. As we packed up to leave the plantation, I considered what it would be like to be forced to stay. What is it like not to have a home to go back to and nothing more to look forward to tomorrow than the same back-breaking work?

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My revelations were not just in relation to dark history (I am aware black history is not just about slavery). As I looked around the land, I saw how the enslaved built almost everything on the property. It reminded me of how skillful and resourceful we are as a people. From shelters to clothing, food, and shoes, I thought how empowering it would be to get back to building our own.

Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that Israelites, so-called Blacks, were not as naive as we are taught. It occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture. Otherwise, we were expert farmers, inventors, midwives, carpenters, and chefs. Thus, I left not just in appreciation for the tangible things in my life, but for everything my people have endured and the knowledge they’ve passed down to me through the generations.


Being that I drafted this post when we got home so it can be ready for you today, I’m going to crawl into this bed and get ready to catch up. I’ll be scrolling your blogs to see what I missed. The grind continues.

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Click here to read more Black History Fun Fact Friday Articles!

Guest Feature – A Modern Day Slave Plantation Part 3 by Laura Dimon

*Note: This article was not written by The PBS Blog, it is featured as part of the continuation of an ongoing series and is written by Laura Dimon. This is the last part which includes my commentary. Please view our Guest Feature or Article Section for Parts 1 & 2*

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In King’s trials, the juries were all white, with one black person. This past March, Glenn Ford, 64, walked out of Angola a free man after 30 years on death row. He was Louisiana’s longest-serving death row prisoner, yet he’s just another black man who was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury. King said Angola today still reminds him of a slave plantation, but not as much as it reminds him of a graveyard. “There seems to be an artificial sanitation that is disturbing to me,” he said. The land is “beautiful, whitewashed, looks like a college campus.” But underneath, “The bones are rottin’.”

 
Angola exists in the shadow of slavery, a time when black men did not have rights. In a state with the motto “Union, justice and confidence,” there is certainly a lingering stink of a bygone, ugly era for which “union and justice” is simply not a fitting description. The other two members of the Angola 3 are Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace. There is overwhelming evidence of their innocence and accordingly, state and federal judges have overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, citing racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution and inadequate defense. But Louisiana’s Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell holds the ultimate power, and has contested the rulings, claiming they were based on technicalities.

 

To this day, after 42 years, Woodfox remains in solitary confinement in Angola. He’s thought to be the longest-serving inmate in solitary. In the documentary film, he says, “If a cause is noble enough, you can carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. And I thought my cause, then and no, was noble. So therefore, they would never break me.”
They might bend me a little bit. They might cause me a lot of pain. They may even take my life. But they will never be able to break me.”

 
Wallace was released in October 2013 with advanced liver cancer. King went with Woodfox, who was permitted to leave briefly, to visit their friend and tell him he was out of Angola for good. “We told him,” King said. Wallace couldn’t move or respond. “[But] we saw it in his eyes. … He knew he was getting out.” Wallace took his last breaths a free man, after over 40 years. He died three days later.

 
King continues the fight for Woodfox. So when he is asked about his own release, he responds with this apt adage: “I was free of Angola, but Angola would not be free of me.”

 

Image Credits: AP, Peter Puna, Robert King

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angolaCommentary:

The disturbing reality, is that no so called African American should be surprised by this article. At some point we must realize that under the fine print of America’s democracy you were never intended to be citizens. Your stay here in this country was never received with the certificate of adoption and thus you were never granted the same rights of America’s children, and that is why such institutions such as the Angola Facility still exist in the first place. You have Civil Rights but you have no Human Rights. It is no surprise then, that the mental state of the African American people is worse today than it was during slavery. Even during the Civil Rights Era your state of consciousness was not like it is now; for Freedom Rides denoted an understanding that you were not free here and you understood that. But the worse thing about mental enslavement however is that if the mind thinks itself free it doesn’t really matter what happens to the body. You can continue to mistreat it and it will still not grasp the understanding that it remains confined. You can put it in a hog pen, lock it up inside the inner rooms, isolate it and because the mind has been warped it will still think it possesses some kind of freedom. In The Mis-Education of The Negro Carter G. Woodson said it best, “when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.

  • Prison institutions determine how many more beds to add to their facility, based on how many black boys can’t read by the 4th grade

 

  • According a recent Brookings Institution report, black men born in 1975 who dropped out of high school had a 70 percent chance of ending up in prison by their mid-thirties. The probability is actually greater for young black men who drop out today.

 

  • The bible prophecy’s of black men being hidden in prison houses and that their heavens will be bronze and their earth iron (Deut. 28:23, Lev. 26:19)

 

  • According to Prof. Michelle Alexander’s analysis of U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are now more black men in prison than were enslaved in 1850.

 

  • The so called African American was never included in the U.S. Constitution; his civil rights were amended or added on, this means they can also be removed

 

  • The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery continue.

 

Guest Feature – A Modern Day Slave Plantation by Laura Dimon Part 2

*Note: This article was not written by The PBS Blog, it is featured as part of the continuation of an ongoing series and is written by Laura Dimon. Please view our Guest Feature or Article Section for Part 1*

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In 1972, the prisoners were virtually all black. Merciless guards — all white men, called “freemen” — worked the inmates like slaves. Sugar cane was the main crop, King said. In the documentary film In the Land of the Free, it’s stated that the inmates labored all day every day for a measly $.02 per hour. The abuse didn’t stop there. As NPR reported, “There was a prisoner slave trade and rampant rape; inmates slept with J.C. Penney catalogs tied to their waists for protection.” King was one of three men who formed the famous Angola 3 group, leaders of the Black Panther Party’s Angola chapter. King said they were fighting for equality, but he later realized their efforts had been misaimed: “We were focused on civil rights, but we didn’t have human rights,” he said.

 

Prison Horses

In our most recent conversation, I asked King, “How’s it going?” “It’s … ongoing,” he replied. It’s easy to see why: Little has changed at Angola. It remains a time warp, a living, breathing relic of a shameful past. Of about 6,000 inmates currently in custody, roughly 70% are black and 30% are white. In October 2008, NPR reported, “In the distance on this day, 100 black men toil, bent over in the field, while a single white officer on a horse sits above them, a shotgun in his lap.” The context of this modern day slave plantation is unfortunately appropriate. Nola.com wrote that Louisiana is the world’s “prison capital,” with 1 in 86 residents serving time — nearly double the national average. The racial skew is extreme. One in 14 black men in New Orleans is behind bars; 1 in 7 is either in prison, on parole or on probation. Louisiana is “notorious for racial disparities in its justice systems,” Andrew Cohen wrote in the Atlantic.

 

One highly concerning aspect of Louisiana’s judicial scheme is that, unlike in 48 states, a unanimous jury decision is not required — only 10 jurors have to vote to convict someone, even for a life sentence. Oregon is the only other state with this system, but it doesn’t have the same tremendous racial component. Cohen wrote, “Prosecutors can comply with their constitutional obligations to permit blacks and other minority citizens to serve as jurors but then effectively nullify the votes of those jurors should they vote to acquit.” It is one of “the most obvious and destructive flaws in Louisiana’s broken justice system,” he wrote, arguing, plain and simple: “Louisiana is terribly wrong to defend a law that was born of white supremacy.”

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A Duke University study examined more than 700 non-capital felony criminal cases in Florida and found that, in cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81% of the time while whites were convicted 66% of the time. The researchers concluded that “the racial composition of the jury pool has a substantial impact on conviction rates” and that “the application of justice is highly uneven.”

 

Image Credits: AP, Peter Puna, Robert King, Google Images

Guest Feature – A Modern Day Slave Plantation Exists, and It’s Thriving in the Heart of America – Part 1

This post is part of a 3 day Special Feature Post on ThePBSblog, located under our Articles  and Guest Feature section. The author’s name is Laura Dimon. Laura graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2013. She has been published in the Economist, the Atlantic, and the Daily Beast. I ran across her article on the Prison system and its striking similarity to the Slavery Plantation and thought I’d share it here. However, it is  a lengthy article so I will be breaking it down into 3 separate post to give you room to process the information. I will also wait until after this series (Friday 10/17/14) before adding my own commentary, though you may comment after each segment as you wish.

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It was 1972. Thousands of American troops were battling communist forces in Vietnam. Nixon had won re-election by a landslide, but Watergate would soon usher in his demise. Space travel and technology were advancing rapidly.
Change was brewing across America, but one place stood still, frozen in time: Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola. When Robert King arrived that year, he felt as though he’d stepped into the past.

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Angola sits 50 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. It’s the largest maximum-security facility in the United States and one of the country’s most notorious prisons. In the book The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, the authors wrote, “Tough criminals allegedly broke down when they received a sentence to Angola. … None of them wanted to be sent to a prison where 1 of every 10 inmates annually received stab wounds and which routinely seethed with black-white confrontations.”

 
Angola’s expanse covers a vast 28 square miles — larger than the size of Manhattan. Tucked away in a bend of the Mississippi River, it’s surrounded by water and swamp on three sides. It’s an isolated penal village — the nearest town 30 miles away — and it’s the only penitentiary in the country where staff members live on site. Generation after generation grow up, live and die on Angola’s land.

 

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When King, now 71, arrived at Angola, his first impression of it was that it resembled a slave plantation, he said. And it used to be just that. Its name is derived from the home country of the slaves who used to work the land. Today, the comparison remains sadly accurate: Inmates are disproportionately black. They’re forced into hard labor and monitored closely by armed white staff on horseback. There is a sex slave trade behind the bars and many black inmates are deprived of basic constitutional rights. King landed a tough lot in life: He was born black in Louisiana in 1942. In his 2008 book From the Bottom of the Heap, he wrote, “I was born in the U.S.A. Born black, born poor. Is it any wonder that I have spent most of my life in prison?” He went to Angola when he was 18 for a murder he did not commit and remained there for 31 years, 29 of which he spent in solitary confinement, before he was finally freed in 2001.

*Note: Image Credits: AP, Peter Puna, Robert King