Gold coast slavery
(This is a text based off of the knowledge I got from three different sources, I’m only repeating what I’ve been told)
While climbing the bridge over the fog coated Mississippi river close to the town Lutcher, the rain to my face feels like needles when combined with the head wind of a century. The feelings are mixed; the cycling is tough but I know that on the other side of this river there are over seven old sugar cane plantations within 15km. I’m not allowed to complain; I won’t do it.
Half of all American millionaires lived in this area in the late 18th century. New Orleans was where the Dutch ships started arriving after they realized the North wasn’t profitable enough for slave trade. The African people didn’t handle the cold very well and they were already immune to mosquito carried deceases which made them perfectly suitable for the swamps of the south.
At the cotton and tobacco plantations the death rate was 25% in ten years, down at the sugar cane plantations it was 113%. 16-18-hour work days, often seven days a week together with warm and humid weather, freezing winters and hurricane seasons, yellow fever, malaria and dangerous wildlife such as alligators, wild boars, bobcats and black bears killed more people than the slave owners bought.
Ali, one of the guides at Whitney Plantation, dressed in a Ralph Lauren shirt, ironed beige pants and white sneakers keeps his dread locks in place with a ribbon. As he explains that the life expectancy was less than ten years at Whitney plantation he walks up to me, grabs me by my shoulder and says: “A guy like you would take a little longer before you died; tall, fit, hell! You can fight for us up in the Big House in the evenings.”
Over 107,000 slaves died on what was known as the Gold Coast, Whitney Plantation had between 120 – 350 slaves depending on which time of year it was. The plantation produced over 400 tons of sugar every year and was active for almost 150 years.
The slaves were seen as cattle, if ever caught with a pen and paper they got 25 lashes by the ox whip. Educating yourself was worse than trying to escape. The slaves always had to be controlled, they were most of the time not even able to spell their own name, which most of the time got changed as soon as they got off the boats. They stripped them of everything and children were seen as adults by the age of ten, then they could be sold separately.
A guy which I’ll name Tucker who I meet by one of the other plantations while cycling through the area tells me his story. He changed his last name back, from the French one they took as his family arrived here from Germany in the early 1700’s. He is wearing a jumpsuit labeled with one of the big companies situated along the Mississippi river.
“Everybody wanted to trade with the French, if you didn’t have a French name nobody would make deals with you.” His great, great grandmother grew up on the family sugar cane plantation.
He continues: “Well you know all this Hollywood bullshit about plantation families treating them slaves with whips and beating them all the time, why in hell would you ever beat them up? They wanted them to work in the fields, not lay sick and recovering. If they didn’t behave, then they would get a whooping but not just for the fun of it.”
“You know many of them slaves were from Africa but a ton of them were from the Caribbean, in fact, the biggest slave revolt was done by slaves from Haiti. What most people don’t know is that the really good slaves, the fine examples, my family would bring down to New Orleans on the weekends for breeding, they took them to bars and restaurants, to get new blood in to the system. And the bonus they got if one of the girls got pregnant, the owner of the mother would automatically get ownership of the child.”
He is referring to a place in New Orleans named “Congo Square”, which is, according to Wikipedia, a place were slaves met during Sundays, the day they usually had off work due to the “Code Noir” to socialize and mingle. Tucker feels the need to address this matter:
“Today people celebrate the so called Congo Square Rhythms Festival don in New Orleans, which they think is a celebration to the day off the slaves had so they could go have a bit of fun. They don’t know what they’re doing! They are celebrating a breeding place for African slaves! Uneducated bastards.”
As we talk I feel uncomfortable because of the way he tells the stories, it’s like he almost experienced it himself, I realize quickly that he puts an emotion of disgust to it as well as telling me what to him is the truth.
“The civil war was not about slave trade first hand; the civil war was about the North telling the South to industrialize. They couldn’t use free labor because of the cold up there, but the South had already invested in all these slaves, they didn’t want to change. And when the war was won by the North all these slaves all of a sudden had absolutely nothing! They were free, but they had nothing. So most plantations would still have them working for them, they would give them a salary but the former slaves now had to pay for accommodation and food provided by their former owners. There was no solution for them, and New Orleans was STILL the biggest human trafficking source of the US for many many years. They got free but they weren’t free.”
“Most people out here they know shit about what went down, and they don’t care about it neither. They still go on without giving their children a proper education, they don’t care about it. Education is everything! And if you take a good look at how the South treat colored people it’s like nothing never changed.”
I have endured three days of rain, it will continue for two more weeks if the forecast is correct. I will get wet as a dog but I will not complain, no fucking chance.