Oak Alley, South Louisiana, and the Mansions that Slavery Built


As we approached New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, going down through the Delta, I took my sons on a visit to Oak Alley.  This is one of those grand plantations west of the city, along the river, built on the backs of the slaves who raised and harvested the sugarcane, the cotton.  I felt the boys should see a place so grand, and tragic.


So we took a tour, dug on the antiquities and views of the live oaks, but when the tourguide referred to a child slave as a “little colored boy,” my sons had had enough.  The oldest turned to me and asked if we could leave.  I urged him to finish the tour, he gritted his teeth and did, noting bitterly that not once did the guide refer to how all that fleeting wealth had been acquired.  I’m glad he noticed.

Later we wandered the grounds, where the punks climbed the trees, snapped pictures, made calls on their cells.  I later explained that the woman’s remark would have offended plenty of white Southerners too, and that it didn’t reflect bigotry so much as a lack of awareness.  I mean throughout the South, for over a decade, I’ve seen Black professors, successful businessmen and women, civic leaders.  The old bigotry is  dying–even if language in certain rural areas hasn’t kept pace.  I also reminded the boys of how our own ancestors once had slaves–on a large farm in Missouri–and that few white Americans were not descended from centuries of bigotry, whether from the North, the South, or Europe.  That I think helped put things in perspective.

Anyway, by that evening everyone was excited, since we knew New Orleans was next–an experience like no other.  We got there the next day, but not before stopping for a cajun meal at some roadside joint in Vacherie–one of our best meals of the trip.  And yeah, Blacks ate in that joint at tables next to Whites–something that would have been unthinkable when I was a kid.  Slowly, this country is making progress.

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