Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared some of what Henry and I learned when visiting the Whitney Plantation while on a road trip this summer. My hope for our time there was to get a better sense of the life experience of the 10 million enslaved Africans and African Americans in the antebellum South. That certainly happened. I also had some personal experiences and reflections that I thought I would share to wrap up this series of posts and hopefully encourage you to consider visiting this impactful place too.
The impact began to build almost as soon as we walked in the door. I wrote last year about discovering the Nap Ministry, which was prominently featured in the Whitney Plantation’s gift shop. In fact, I picked up The Nap Ministry’s Rest Deck that includes fifty “rest practice” suggestions and readings for reflection. We also bought several books, including some for our grandchildren on the Underground Railroad and other age-appropriate information, books that are probably being banned in schools and libraries across the modern South….
When we toured the plantation buildings and grounds, I found myself paying close attention to the language used by our guide. She carefully spoke of “enslaved people,” not “slaves,” which reinforced what I’d been learning in our antiracism reading. I’ve intentionally tried to use that language in these reflections, except when recounting the perspective of the “masters.” I also have been thinking about the political right’s use of “dog whistle politics,” which hint at racism for those “in the know” while avoiding explicitly racist terminology. Language is both fundamental and complex in every culture—something I know well after serving more than eleven years as a freelance editor!
On a much more visceral level, our guide was also unwilling to walk near this metal jail on the property, which was built in 1868 and used for convict leasing in a nearby parish (aka county). She said that the residual negative energy was too powerful. (I had walked by it earlier and didn’t explicitly feel anything, but I also had no interest in going inside.)
Yet the energy at Whitney Plantation might have impacted me anyway. I could have sworn I took a lot more photos than showed up on my phone and camera when I went to download images after our visit. I wonder if there were photos I took that some remnant spirits of enslaved people (or enslavers) just didn’t want me to have. (One time in Puerto Rico, years ago, Henry and I were visiting a cemetery, and my camera suddenly stopped working. Nothing could get it to function—until we left, and it mysteriously started working again. I speculate that the spirits of those buried there did not want me to take pictures of their gravestones.)
On the other hand, I saw dozens of dragonflies all over the plantation during our visit—and have almost fifty photos of them in my files. It seemed that everywhere I looked, there was another dragonfly. In fact, they often seemed to pose for a photo, showing off their gleaming bodies before flitting off on fragile wings. Perhaps they were remnant spirits of a much different sort, now liberated to fly wherever they wished. I’ll be sharing some of those many dragonfly images this week on Instagram.
As you can see, it truly was a compelling visit. Please join me in prayer for all souls who have been enslaved throughout the course of human history—and especially for the millions of Black people who endured slavery in the American South. Please also pray for the souls of the enslavers who chose to act in such cruel and inhuman ways. Then consider how you can support efforts to end different types of slavery around the world today—because it’s still happening in too many places and modes.