By Kristen Evans, Art-to-Action Coordinator
The 1811 Slave Revolt – the largest in North America – happened along River Road, in the same location where plantations have now become chemical plants. Can we draw on that spirit of resistance today to fight the petrochemical polluters who have taken the physical place of the slaveholders?
“If my ancestors can have their heads put onto stakes because they dared to rebel against slavery, I can surely stand up to Shell.” Margie Richard, former President, Concerned Citizens of Norco, Goldman Award Winner 2004.
If you have ever taken a tour of a plantation along River Road, you were probably shocked at what is NOT included — like a realistic description of slavery, or of the 1811 Slave Revolt, or anything about that massive refinery right next door making that horrible smell.
On Wednesday April 24, thirty five students and professors from Xavier and Tulane presented many stories of life along River Road that need to be better known! – what it was like growing up in Norco next to the Shell Refinery, about the slaves and prisoners who built the levees, Sauve Crevasse and more. We heard about the levee-top bike tour, archival research, critiques of River Road tourism, historical maps and oral histories. We saw a hilarious press conference by “refinery executives”, a entire news segment dedicated to refinery abuses, and personal stories by “mothers from a refinery community”.
This event was the culmination of months of research and creative effort. Congratulations to the students and to Professors Lisa Flanagan, Kristin Wintersteen and Ross Louis from the fantastic work!
All of these stories is building towards the launch of our Down by the River project, a multidimensional environmental and African-American history media platform that weaves together interactive online maps, oral histories, site-specific performance and a walking/biking tour…to encourage us to explore the connection of people and place along the Mississippi River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana…and inspire us all to advocate for environmental justice.
Stay tuned! We will launch the website in the fall of 2013.
Down By the River is a project of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in collaboration with the Louisiana Museum of African-American History, Tulane University, Xavier University and other partners. Thanks to Jakob Rosenzweig, Leon Waters, Richard Campanella, Laura Murphy, Tulane’s Center for Public Service, Newcomb Institute, Amistad Research Center, Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane, the Center for Engaged Learning and Teaching at Tulane, Xavier University Center for Student Leadership and Service, Newcomb-Tulane College Dean’s Office for support of Fall 2012-Spring 2013 course activities.