Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana

Among the beautiful preserved plantation homes you can visit in the greater New Orleans area, Whitney Plantation stands out. You don’t go there to marvel at the lavish lives of the slave holding white upper class. You don’t go to enjoy period architecture. You go to learn about the brutalities of slavery in the only plantation museum in Louisiana that focuses on the lives of the people enslaved, not the slave-holders.

“In 2014, the Whitney Plantation opened its doors to the public for the first time in its 262 year history as the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery.

Through museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana’s enslaved people.” (via the website)

I’ll include some videos at the end of this post to help you understand just how unique this is, but I will say that after two hours in the 90+ degree Louisiana sun learning about the horrors of slavery, I felt like I could have gone on another tour. Our guide was bold and unafraid to make strong statements about the realities of America’s first few hundred years. It was an incredibly powerful experience, and I would urge you to visit if you ever get the chance. You will not walk out the same. This place is not only a museum, but a memorial to the what we have done. In Germany, there are memorials to the Holocaust all over. But in the US, we don’t have memorials to slavery. Instead we have monuments to the people who fought to keep African Americans enslaved. The Whitney Plantation is doing something about this.

I can’t embed it, but I highly recommend this video about the Whitney Plantation from the New Yorker. You can also learn more about the museum from NPRNational GeographicThe AtlanticThe Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. For more photos of my 2016 roadtrip through the South, click here.]

Exploring Historic Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama

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Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham was one of the most unique places I’ve been in the US. Built in the 1880’s, the blast furnaces produced pig iron for 90 years before being shut down. The site was given historic designation in the 1980’s, and today a nice visitor center has some exhibits on its fascinating history worth checking out before you water around some minimally marked off paths that basically give you free reign to wander and climb in and out of different areas. Certain more dangerous areas are marked off, but mostly you are left to use your own common sense as you wander through tunnels, peer into furnaces, and climb up access stairs. It’s a surreal experience, and it’s all free! My photos didn’t turn out too well due to the bright noon sun, but the place is a photographer’s dream.

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. For more photos of my 2016 roadtrip through the South, click here.]

DC: President’s Lincoln’s Cottage

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When Abraham Lincoln needed to get away and think about important things (like how to stop the South from successfully leaving the Union and whether or not to abolish slavery), he rode just out of town to his cottage in what is now Northwest DC. Today, President Lincoln’s Cottage is an example of how a historic house museum can not only be relevant to the present, but also change the future.

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The tagline for the Cottage is “A Home for Brave Ideas.” This house was a place where Lincoln contemplated extremely difficult decisions and ideas, and the staff today are extremely creative in how they have made the Cottage a place for much the same today. Whether through comedy nights that tackle controversial issues to their presidential-award-winning Students Opposing Slavery (SOS) program, exhibits on issues that span the centuries like immigration, or naturalization ceremonies where new citizens are welcomed to full participation in our democracy, President Lincoln’s Cottage lives up to its tagline. If you are in the DC area, I highly recommend a visit.

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I visited last Christmas with my family before flying back to Nashville. Here are a few shots of us enjoying the beautiful grounds around the Cottage. In the background is the private Armed Forces Retirement Home.

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000.]

Memphis: National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

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I first visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis back in October 2015, soon after moving to Nashville. I went back a few months later. Both times, I felt like two hours went by too quickly and regretted not giving myself the whole day to spend in the museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever visited (and I’ve gone to a lot). The exhibit design makes it a great experience for all ages, all races, and all levels of museum-going (from non-museum people to museum lovers). If you find yourself in Memphis, don’t miss it.

The Museums is built in and around the Lorraine Motel, the significant African American institution where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. After walking through the galleries that take you through African American history in the US from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to Black Power movement (and somewhat up to today), you end up looking through a glass wall into the room where MLK spent his last moment. It’s a really moving experience, to say the least.

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[[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more photos of Tennessee.]

Nashville: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

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No, the cabin pictured above is not the beloved home of Andrew Jackson, seventeenth president of the United States, “Hero,” and “Rock Star” (the latter two according to the promotional material for the historic site). It’s one of the cabins where his slaves lived.

I visited The Hermitage within the first month of moving to Nashville. I went with my grandma, and the beautiful home and property definitely made for a pleasant walk. I’ll be honest: it seems a bit odd to me to turn the home and gardens of a genocide’s mastermind into a celebratory  historical destination. And let’s face the facts, that is exactly what Andrew Jackson was….a man who earned his stripes killing Native Americans, gained celebrity status for a brutal battle in a war that had already ended, and masterminded the death of thousands of Native Americans through the Indian Removal Act, a precedent that opened the floodgates for the killing of this country’s original inhabitants on a sickening scale.

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Living in Tennessee, which is very proud to have produced this president, I get really frustrated with the gentle, white-washed portrayals of Jackson. He is described as a complex/complicated man who did both so much good and so much bad.

The official jacket description of his most recent biography (by John Meacham) describes him this way: “Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.”

Are you kidding me? Can you imagine a biography of Hitler or Stalin or Pot Pol that spoke of their contradictions as if “warm sentimentality” is a balance for genocide? It might go something like this: “Hitler was a complicated man. He loved Eva passionately and was a vegetarian and did not drink, but also had a fierce side that came out in his Final Solution. He did whatever it took to boost the moral of his countrymen and improve the economy.” That would be ridiculous right?

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Throughout his lifetime, Andrew Jackson owned up to 300 Black people. His farm ran on their labor, his food came to his table because of them. His beautiful home was likely built with slave labor. It was certainly maintained by it. The Hermitage exhibits describe his wife Rachel as a kind, loving woman…but also a harsh master. Let’s face the fact, the Jacksons success in life was based on the brutal exploitation of Native Americans and enslaved Blacks.

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But I didn’t learn that at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. There, in a series of beautiful exhibits and a tour through the house, I learned all about his military exploits, his happy home life, his great love marriage to Rachel, and where on the property his slaves lived. The exhibits in the visitor’s center did reference the Indian Removal Act, but if the phrase “Trail of Tears” was there, I didn’t see it (and I read every word in exhibits). They did talk about one slave in particular…the one who wanted to be buried next to the Jacksons when he died *ughhh*. I was also disappointed to hear an elderly interpreter refer to Jacksons “servants” (I’m guessing that’s not their site-wide policy, but it’s still disappointing.

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I feel like I missed a great learning opportunity. What a great place that would have been to learn more about the impact Jackson had on the large-scale destruction of Native communities. What a great place that would have been to learn about how his power, like that of so many at the time (not to mention the entire US economy) was based on the labor of slaves and resources stolen from Native tribes.

After a few days of fuming, I didn’t think too much more of the Hermitage until recently, when the site released its official statement on the removal of Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and his replacement with Harriet Tubman (a true hero). The statement released by Andrew Jackson Foundation (which governs the site) said they were disappointed with the decision and reminded readers that the man was “complicated.” Sigh. If you are in the area, it’s certainly a historically significant site, so perhaps worth a visit, but I do hope they will one day focus more on the Jackson’s horrifying decimation of a people group and less on the “love story” of his marriage.

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On a brighter note, here’s a picture of me and my adorable Grandma, who visited me for a night while on a road trip from Maryland to Arizona (something she still does regularly at 85 and alone except for her little dog because she loves to travel…my hero). hermitage7

Please note that the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. [35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more pictures of Tennessee.]

MD: The Dr. Mudd House

Maryland4Post War of 1812, one of the more significant historical events near my family home in Upper Marlboro, MD, was the case of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. Dr. Mudd was an upstanding citizen with a successful medical practice in what is now Waldorf, MD until one fateful day when a stranger with a broken leg knocked on his door late at night asking for help and treatment.

Poor Dr. Mudd had no way of knowing that the stranger was John Wilkes Booth, who was on the lamb with a broken leg after assassinating President Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. As a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Dr. Mudd would spend many years in a prison far from his family, and his reputation would never recover. Historical myth says he is the origin of the idiom “your name is mud,” but the OED records it’s use in the early 1800’s, before the Mudd/Booth incident.

Maryland1Today, the house and grounds are a museum where you can learn about Dr. Mudd, life in rural central Maryland in the mid 1800’s, the conspiracy to kill Lincoln, and the manhunt that followed. Aleksi and I visited in June 2015. It’s a really beautiful 20 minute drive from my dad’s house down winding country/forest roads, and the farm itself is really beautiful. Definitely a pleasant trip if you’re a history lover and find yourself in the area.

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Maryland2 [35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more pictures of Maryland.]