Comments on Proposed Exhibit at Bonnet Carre Spillway

By Anne Rolfes, LABB Founding Director

 

The Slave Revolt of 1811 took place along the Mississippi River. It was the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. This event and the land on which it took place were a source of inspiration in the campaign for relocation of the Diamond community in Norco, LA. This small four street community pressured Shell to buy their contaminated property. Knowing their ancestors had fought slavery gave people strength.

This area has great meaning for me and should be more widely know.  It could be a major tourist attraction – a foundation of our local cultural economy. Please read my (brief) comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These comments regard the proposed recognition of two slave cemeteries in the Bonnet Carre Spillway. This site is adjacent to Norco, where the LABB supported the Diamond community’s successful campaign for relocation.

 

The Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed project Resting Place is a welcome beginning in realizing the long requested recognition of the cemetery sites in the Bonnet Carre Spillway. I believe the focus on recreation in the spillway should be reexamined; I propose more of an emphasis on history.

The spillway and the greater parish and region are a precious site in American History. With proper management and vision, the area could become an economic engine. Given the number and intensity of historical events along the river, this celebration of history should be one of the state’s crown jewels. Among the possibilities:

  • The interpretive center long advocated by the Louisiana Museum of African American History
  • A statue celebrating the Slave Revolt of 1811
  • An historic trail on which one could follow the steps of the Slave Revolt
  • Historic markers noting now destroyed communities like Sellars (as well as other African American communities with direct ties to African ancestors).

There would be opportunity for a renaissance of small businesses along the river – gift shops, restaurants – to echo and celebrate this theme.

It is a shame that, in the year 2012, ATVs and biking get more resources than African American history. I fear the plan as written continues the marginalization of both African American history and the African American community.

Please know that I support the comments made by the Louisiana Museum of African American History (LMAAH) and Leon Waters about the specific components of the exhibit. My comments:

Re title the project. It currently carries the name of the slave owners Kenner and Kugler (there was a pamphlet provided with this title in the Corps’ display). A more appropriate title is one that honors the Africans who were enslaved. Naming the project after the slave owners further enshrines their names and continues to confer prestige. The prestige, at this point in history, is long overdue to the enslaved Africans.

I attended the hearing in St. Rose about the project. In attendance was a man who was a descendant of the Kugler family. When he commented, he asked simply for a plaque – including the Kugler crest – honoring his family. Even he did not seem to think that the cemetery should be named after his family.

Create digital panels. The proposed panels would have fixed, immoveable text. My understanding from the LMAAH is that current best practices involve digital displays that can be changed and updated. I can understand some of the barriers that might exist, but urge you to follow these recommendations so that the display might be something truly meaningful for local historians who have worked so long and hard to achieve this.

There is a unique opportunity here to celebrate American history, and likewise an economic opportunity for the region. The state is supportive of the idea of our cultural economy. We should seize this chance to celebrate that history and provide an economic boon.

Thank you so much for your hard work. I appreciate it.

 

 

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