The past in present tense

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 13, 2011

By David Vitrano


GARYVILLE – The plantations scattered throughout the River Parishes regularly offer visitors a peek at the way life was many years ago. Fourth-graders in St. John the Baptist Parish, however, were recently given the chance to take that idea a little further thanks to a program offered by San Francisco Plantation and partner corporation Marathon.

Called “Stepping Back Into Time,” the local students got to see firsthand how things were done not just on a plantation but in the area in general before technology made much of the intensive manual labor obsolete. Students observed how to make jambalaya and file, listened to slave spirituals and learned about such forgotten crafts as net-making and blacksmithing. They also were treated to guided tours of the mansion.

One of the most popular portions of the day was Program Director Catherine Stephens’ look at slave life. Stephens years of tour guide experience shone through as she kept the students enthralled in tales of slave escapes and their musical heritage, all the while throwing in interesting tidbits such as the origin of the term “hush puppies.”

“They have a lot of fun out here,” said Stephens. “It’s something they don’t get to do every day.”

Stephens said she was inspired to create the program because history books often gloss over this period of American life in the South.

“The kids need to be in touch with that part of their history,” she said.

This year 662 fourth-graders from across the parish took part in the program, which is free thanks to funding from Marathon.