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Syndic Literary Journal

“If Slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

–  Abraham Lincoln


By LeRoy Chatfield


I have enjoyed more than nineteen years of formal education, including a B.A. degree in philosophy, and a Masters degree in Political Science but I do not recall ever taking a single class or hearing even one classroom lecture about Slavery –  perhaps I should have majored in History. Now, age eighty-four years, I am focused on – even obsessed  by –  the issue of Slavery in the United States. Why now?

Yes, of course, I knew our country had a history of slavery – at least in the Southern Colonies – which eventually led to the Civil War wherein the slaves were emancipated by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and slavery was outlawed after the Confederate Army was defeated.  As I write these words I understand how sad – even shocking –  my admission of ignorance about our country’s history of slavery must register with the reader.  And rightly so! 

But the reality is even worse!  I have logged more than sixty years of social justice activism –  helping to support the rights of African Americans in the South to vote; working to organize farmworkers to fight for the labor rights denied to them by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936; organizing food and shelter survival programs for people who are treated like modern day lepers and forced to live on our streets and byways because of local government housing policies; and all the while encouraging and urging all who were interested to get involved and help restore justice.  

One would think that with such a background in social justice issues, I would have long ago taken an interest in and learned more about the history of slavery that to this day is the root cause of the rise of white supremacy and fascism that has been whipped up by a “Make America Great Again” fear-mongering president who is utterly incapable of speaking truth because he believes in no one or nothing save himself.

Why now, you ask?  One reason, I think, is because of the work – a labor of love, really – of John Cummings III.  Using his own money – more than $8 million dollars to date – and the expertise of others, Mr. Cummings has built an authentic slave museum in the New Orleans area, named the Whitney Plantation. He too did not know much about our country’s history of slavery until he bought a sugar cane plantation as a real estate investment and began to pour through the voluminous records of slavery he found relating to the site. He  understood what he had been called to do – build an educational memorial that would teach others – people like me who know little or nothing –  what he had come to understand about slavery, which is:   you cannot understand the United States of America unless you understand slavery. 

We  pause here to listen to a short BBC interview with John Cummings about why he built a slave museum on the Whitney Plantation:


Nothing personal, but New Orleans has never ranked high on my list of places to visit but when I read about the existence of the Slave Museum –  a forty minute drive from the city – I knew that was the reason I had to make the trip.  I was not disappointed!

To pay tribute and memorialize  the lives of more than the 300,000 slaves who were brought to New Orleans in shackles and sold at public auction to provide “slave labor” for Louisiana,   John Cummings has transformed the Whitney Plantation into sacred ground.  After visiting and taking the 90-minute guided tour, I compared the feelings of my experience to that of  visiting Machu Picchu or the Alhambra or hiking in the grand silence of Bryce Canyon or sitting for hours looking out over the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon or walking the hours-long Roman-era breadbasket  meseta   during the Camino de Santiago. The setting of the  Slave Museum alongside the Mississippi River  is eminently rural, quiet, peaceful, and profound –  like  a meticulously well maintained historical cemetery with names carved on granite to   forever mark the presence of unknown human beings  in the silence of their unwritten history.  Slaves were brought here, lived here, worked here, born here, died and buried here.  Indeed, it is sacred ground and feels like it.   This museum is a forever testament to man’s inhumanity to man – our original sin.  It is a public memorial to honor the lives of Louisiana slaves and reminds us to remember them as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

In 1773 Massachusetts, a slave named Felix, petitioned for his freedom: “We have no property. We have no wives. No children. We have no city. No country. But we have a Father in Heaven.”


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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