By Addie Williams, Petrochemical Accident Researcher
My name is Addie Williams, and I am interning as a Petrochemical Accident Researcher this summer. I am a junior at Tulane University, and my passion for public health brought me to the Bucket Brigade. After a busy first week, we embarked on a Hidden History Tour led by Mr. Leon Waters to get a glimpse of what our research and what the Bucket Brigade is really all about.
Just a minute or two after the van left the parking lot, Mr. Leon Waters was already off: “Look over your handouts, and I’ll talk once we pass the airport exit.” Mr. Leon’s passion and eagerness to tell his story was obvious and warranted. The tour drives up River Road and through Norco, LA, stopping at milestones during the Slave Revolt of 1811 that are often overlooked. Today, some of these stops neighbor highways and some are overgrown with tall grasses, but they are all still as meaningful as when they were erected two hundred years ago because we are fighting the same battles.
The 1811 Slave Revolt, the largest in the history of the United States, is often forgotten, but not by the many who live right in its path where enslaved people once bravely marched for freedom. There are little bits of history still present today that keep their memory alive. For example, we stopped at churches with small cornerstones that commemorated these brave slave rebels; though the churches are different structures than what they were in the 1800s, the cornerstones have always been there as a consistent memorial. We stopped at cemeteries where historic rebel tombs, whose print is fading, are nestled in weeds. We drove through Norco, LA (where Leon could identify numerous households as family) which neighbors the route the rebels took in 1811. Finally, we stopped at the levee, once the Bernoudy plantation, where the battle took place. Along the arduous route, the slaves had gained support, but not enough to overcome the oppressors. “Generations after would finish the battle,” Mr. Leon said.
Shell and many other huge oil refineries are only mimicking the plantation system when they sacrifice the health of neighboring communities in order to make a profit. History repeats itself— these fenceline communities are carrying the torch their ancestors passed down and are taking a stand for environmental justice. Mr. Leon was clear when he said:“’look out past the Bonnet Carre spillway— that’s who we are fighting.” A flare from the Union Carnide shone bright in the distance.