Civil Conversations: Day 5, Whitney Plantation and the Story of Anna


Statues resembling children born into slavery overlook Whitney Plantation from the porch of the slave quarters they once lived in. ©2018 Max Perrenoud

Max Perrenoud

Their names line the marble walls of the monuments erected at the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana.  Some 107,000 people subjected to the horrors of slavery are remembered because their owner believed in keeping meticulous records of her property.

Still, only one story survives.

Director of Museum Operations Ashley Rodgers makes sure this message resonates with those who make the journey to Whitney Plantation. In her words, “We know the names of 350 enslaved individuals from this plantation. But Anna’s is the only story I have to share with you.” University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students visited the plantation as part of the 10th annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

Anna was enslaved and shipped to Louisiana with her mother and brother. Her mother did not survive the journey and the young girl watched her mother’s body being thrown overboard. At 10, Anna became a slave companion for the Whitney Plantation owner’s wife, Marie Haydel.

At the age of 25, after over a decade of living in the plantation home, Anna was raped by her owner’s brother and became pregnant. She gave birth to a son named Victor who was born as a possession of his own uncle and aunt.

Because of the color of his skin Victor did not see a day of freedom until he was 35 years old. The Emancipation Proclamation freed Victor.

This brief story has survived orally throughout the decades, but the Whitney Plantation allowed visitors to remember countless voices silenced during nearly two centuries of enslavement.

“My ma died ‘bout three hours after I was born. Pa always said they made my ma work too hard. I was born in de fields. He said my ma was hoein’. She told de old driver she was sick; he told her to just hoe right on. Soon, I was born, and my ma died a few minutes after dey brung her to the house. Dey even dug holes and put her in dem to whip her before I was born, so my pa said.”

These are the words of Edward De Buiew and they can be found on one of the many memorials to those who suffered at Whitney Plantation.

Whitney Plantation tells the story of an enslaved people from their perspective. Their experiences were recorded many years after American slavery as part of  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Federal Writers project. The Depression-era effort hired editors and writers across the country to capture the stories to preserve them. Without these efforts their narratives may have been forever lost.