The Plantation House

Early this morning, I was on Twitter, talking to a friend.  We exchanged pleasantries and then moved on to asking what many people in the U.S. are asking this week: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”  I’m sure that most of you know that I live in the United States now.  I, like millions of others will be putting a turkey in the oven on Thursday and sitting down to thank God for the many blessings that I have.

I’ve always loved this holiday because it serves as a symbol of what this nation is to me: diversity stitched together by a common thread.  I have always been thankful for the image that pops into my mind each year of millions of people across this incredibly large country sitting down to a meal with their families and being thankful.  Some take the time to remember the pilgrims, others don’t.  Some know the meaning of Thanksgiving, some newer immigrants don’t know the symbolism; but still sit down and enjoy a meal with their friends and family and say thanks.  I imagine families speaking English, Hindi, Spanish and a hundred other languages, all praying in a different way; but all saying thank you.  It is moments like these which make me proud to live here and to be American.

But, I digress…

So, this morning after briefing my friend on my plans for Thanksgiving this year; she told me her plans:  She is driving from her charming farm in New York State down to Mississippi to pick up her elderly grandma. Since she’ll be on the road for Thanksgiving, she and her family are going to the Houmas House to have a real Thanksgiving feast.  I was really happy for her (no cooking + good food = success) in my book! I wished her a happy Thanksgiving and we each went on about our day.

Later in the morning, I got a little curious and decided to take a look at the menu (which sounded delicious!) which she’d linked to in her message.  I am a food-lover at heart as you might be able to tell from some of my blog posts.  When I went to the website I saw this beautiful old plantation style home which had been turned into a major tourist attraction.  My first thought was “My goodness, what a charming building with incredible grounds!”  It looked like a wonderful place to enjoy a delicious meal with one’s family.  Then, I was hit with a sense of overwhelming sadness.  It took me a couple of seconds to understand the sudden change in sentiment frankly.

Once I thought about it, I seemed to instinctively feel for all of the unfortunate and deeply sad things that might have happened at that old plantation.  I felt torn between wanting to appreciate its beauty in the moment and wondering what happened there.  Were Black American families separated there?  Were children ripped from their mothers’ arms and sold as slaves there?  How many tears were shed on those now pristine grounds?  How many lives were lost there?

I caught myself for a moment… there is another side to the story even if all of that is true (possibly, after all, I don’t know the true story of this particular plantation house.  I only know the general history of the region.

My mind floated for a moment to another scene, also played out in the same location: that of what the home must have meant to the owners who built it.  Not just to the owners themselves; but to their family.  I was left wondering: how much happiness was revealed in the laughter of young children playing with the family dog, chasing each other through the meadows and climbing its trees?  These children might have been the sons and daughters of plantation owners; but they were children just the same.

We often meet here to discuss the complexities of history.  We talk about the rights and responsibilities we have to tell the truth about our own journey and the history of our perspective nations.  We want to build a future based on the foundation of truth; but inclusive of even those who strongly disagree with our vision of the world.

Now, I have a really difficult challenge for you:

The next time you think about the oppression faced by a people, try to envision the young children of their oppressors. Then, focus on how you can work to make their hearts stay “young” in spirit, uncorrupted.

For a brief moment, despite the strong feelings I had (with tears filling my eyes) about the massive suffering endured by Black Americans in the Deep South… I was still able (with the grace of God) to understand that there were other players (many of whom lost their innocence as they grew up and later joined the oppressive machine), who were young children.  I’m sure that for them, that big old house was just home: where mommy hugged them, where they played with their dolls, and where they ate turkey on Thanksgiving while saying thank you for their blessings.

Admittedly, I am an African with a different history; so perhaps I cannot fully understand what it might be like for someone my same age who is Black American and looking at that same plantation.  But, as I see it, unlike the slave ships which did little else (other than serve as tools for suffering and death), or the camps at Auschwitz, or prisons where political prisoners are tortured… these  buildings were also homes, not just institutions or camps and thus there was a duality: happiness versus profound sadness.

Life is a lot like that, isn’t it?

No matter where you stand on the issue when you look at that big plantation house’s picture: Perhaps you just see the beauty in the architecture, or maybe you are choked up by the pain endured in places that looked like it in the past, or if you see it as a place which symbolizes how people have changed for the better since then… No matter where you stand on the issue, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and more importantly, I wish you many reasons to be thankful!




One thought on “The Plantation House

  1. You are right Mama, it is all complex. Maybe this particular house belonged to an abolitionist? You never know. I’ve thought about this in the context of a Zulu attack on Boer settlers I was reading about once. On the one hand, you’re rooting for the Zulus. On the other hand, you have to feel kind of bad for the children that were killed and even the adults who seemed to think they were just setting up a home in a new place. You’re right that the plantations are not like the slave ships or Auschwitz… but then again, in a sense, they are. They were cogs in a bigger machine that relied on the subjugation of a group of people. Don’t know, guess it depends on the way you look at it.

    I like your point about the children, though, and it’s another thing I think about a lot– generational gaps and the changes that younger generations bring to realities and attitudes. I think especially when it comes to Africa, people overlook this aspect of culture. The assume African cultures, or cultures in general, are static rather than dynamic. They say the fill-in-the-blank people of such-and-such-an-African-country believe X, or have a culture of Y and Z. But I always wonder, How are the youth taking those things and adapting them? How is the culture changing? What kinds of things do the older generation and the younger generation disagree on? So I like that you point out the importance of considering the children of the oppressors. How might they grow up to challenge the older generation?

    I enjoy your thoughts, as always. ….Even if I don’t read and comment as often as I wish I had time to! 🙂 Thanks Mama

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