Day 20: A history lesson

We’re one-fifth of the way to the end! Part of me thinks: Wow, how has it gone by so fast?! And part of me thinks: GOOD GOD I HAVE TO DO FOUR TIMES THIS MUCH.

I’ve been drinking tonight, again, because DrupalCon. We started at a fantastic bar called Bacchanal Wine Bar, where I spent much of the night slurping down mussels, drinking beer and wine, and remembering my former life as a tap dancer/trombonist. There are a handful of ghost-mes around the country, one of which went to Tulane and probably got eyeballs deep in jazz trombone and rhythm tap.

Then we ended up drinking things called “Hand Grenades” at a Bourbon Street bar and now I have no tastebuds. But! The point remains: We must write. We must publish.

Before all that, I had a very full day. The first thing we did, other than sleep in a less-than-impressive Econolodge, was have beignets and a whole lot of cafe au lait. But AFTER that, we went to Whitney Plantation.

The only way I know how to describe Whitney Plantation is as a plantation devoted to telling the story of American enslaved peoples.

The short version, as I understand it: Some white people bought a plantation and decided to tour a bunch of other plantations to see how they might restore their very own big house. After touring a whole bunch of plantations (there are 3400 of them open for touring in the US), they realized that nooooobody wanted to talk about slavery. So. They decided not to move into their plantation and instead have devoted their resources to creating a kind of museum/monument to the American enslaved experience. You can take a slavery tour at Monticello, but it's not the same--the bulk of the experience is devoted to Thomas Jefferson, not to the hundreds of people who made TJ the person he was.

I learned a lot today, but! Of all the stories I could tell, I would like to tell you the story of Anna, as told to me by our tour guide, Kone’.

Anna’s whole family was sold from the east coast to Louisiana in about 1815, when Anna was five years old. During the sea voyage to New Orleans, where the family would be sold at the St. Louis Hotel, Anna witnessed her mother being thrown overboard. She was so young she didn’t yet understand death and so, she assumed for quite awhile after that her mother would appear again.

Upon reaching New Orleans, Anna and her brothers were sold at auction to different owners—she never saw her brothers again. She was purchased by the Haydel family as a pet for the wife of the home. She was treated, more or less, like a kitten.

At about age 7, this got boring for Mrs. Haydel, who put Anna to work as a personal servant.

At age 13, Anna was raped by Mrs. Haydel’s brother. She became pregnant and had a son, Victor Haydel—the first black Haydel.

When the baby was born, she pushed the child away and had nothing to do with him. He was raised by another enslaved woman who had recently given birth herself.

Fast forward a few generations and the black Haydels have a daughter named Sybil. Sybil became interested in civil rights struggles and married a young Xavier University graduate named Ernest.

Ernest went on to become a prominent civil rights attorney, and then later became the first black mayor of New Orleans—succeeded by his son with Sybil, Marc Morial.

Ernest Morial, for whom the convention center is named, where we will all spend the next week learning about the latest developments in Drupal. Ernest N. Morial Convention Center also served as a makeshift evacuation center after Hurricane Katrina. The Haydel household last flooded in the wake of Hurricane Rita, which landed just a few weeks after Katrina.

This land feels full of stories I could not hope to know or to tell. But there’s your history lesson for the day, from an abandoned enslaved girl to the first black mayor of New Orleans. From hurricanes to open-source software.

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