Louisiana State Parks officials have removed a sign from the state’s most visited historical site — an old cotton plantation — declaring that the enslaved Black Americans who toiled there were “happy and well taken care of.”
It’s unclear how long the sign had been posted, but by Tuesday it was gone.
According to The Advocate, the sign was displayed as part of an exhibit in the detached kitchen of the state-owned and operated Rosedown Plantation. About 850 people had been enslaved there before the start of the Civil War, and it was once one of the richest plantations in the antebellum South.
As noted on the sign, the slaves lived in “prettily built and very comfortable” cabins where they were awakened at 4 o’clock in the morning. Plus, there was even a “pretty church for them” that was heated during winters “for their comfort during services.”
“The slaves were well taken care of and happy,” the exhibit sign added. At Christmastime, the slaves would gather because they “have a natural musical instinct. It was wonderful how well they succeeded in their melodies.”
Brandon Burris, the deputy assistant secretary of State Parks, said the sign’s verbiage was a “mistake” and added that the exhibit’s curators were trying to quote from a book called “Rosedown” authored by a member of the Barrow Turnbull family, which built the showplace plantation in the 1830’s. Burris noted that the passage had punctuation errors and failed to cite the source.
No other state historical site has similar signage, he told The Advocate
Southern University professor Albert Samuels was unimpressed with the sign removal, however.
“They always come up with ‘Oh, it’s a mistake,’ but no one’s responsible,” Samuels told the newspaper. “I wish I could say I was shocked. But there’s still a basic unwillingness to come to terms with the fact that slavery was an awful institution.”
The political science professor explained that after losing the Civil War, Southern leaders reframed the war’s causes and aims, painting the institution of slavery as a “benign” practice. Today, most plantation homes are displayed as reminders of the “good ‘ol days,” all while ignoring the harsh realities of slavery and reinforcing clichés” that fan the flames of racial tensions, he said.
“I’m not saying we should get rid of these things,” Samuels added. “But they need to be put in the proper historical context. We do ourselves no favors by pretending that thing didn’t exist when it did.”
As reported by The Advocate, the St. Francisville historical site is the most visited of the state’s 19 such sites and raised about $232,643 in revenues last year. The plantation, which still has most of its original furnishings and buildings, also attracted nearly 30,000 visitors in the last fiscal year alone.
The state took over the property in 2000.
“Rosedown represents one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation complex in the South,” the State Parks’ paperwork that led to the property’s national historic designation reads. “As the real version of the ‘Gone with The Wind’ stereotype, Rosedown, due to its completeness, enables one to appreciate first-hand the domestic world of the South’s wealthiest planters.”