Hemelt: Whitney Plantation plans ambitious history celebration

Published 12:03 am Saturday, January 14, 2017

Edgard native Courtni Becnel told me she heard all of the stories a few years back when the ambitious Whitney Plantation was under construction in Wallace.

Whether boasts of the only plantation museum in Louisiana focused on telling the story of slavery or the most important story along River Road, she just had to check it out for herself.

“When I walked in, I was greeted by the director of operations and the co-founder and just started talking to them, getting a feel for it, seeing if it was something genuine or were they just trying to open up a Disneyland Plantation type of thing,” Becnel recalled this week.

After a heartfelt conversation and subsequent tour, she felt the Cummings family was passionate in their effort, which “was coming from a real place.”

She joined the Whitney Plantation staff fulltime as visitor services and outreach coordinator in May and quickly helped the location launch a Juneteenth event commemorating the ending of slavery the following month.

That prompted a mission to launch a month-long set of celebrations this February for Black History month.

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day near and February close behind, Becnel said she is ready for locals and visitors, alike, to share in Whitney Plantation’s celebration.

The goal remains education.

“While we are celebrating the culture of the people who were enslaved here and we are celebrating the successes and achievements that we have made, it is very important that everyone of all backgrounds comes and takes part in this,” Becnel said. “We’re not doing Black History Month to try and isolate ourselves. We want black history to be part of the mainstream curriculum, because it’s American History. Until that happens, we have to make sure we don’t forget the stories of the individuals who suffered here.”

Becnel routinely tells tour groups, regardless of where they are from or what ethnic or social economic background makes up their ranks, that slavery impacted the entire world.

Either directly with someone working on a sugarcane or cotton planation or others in the North receiving cotton or sugar shipped from Southern plantations to merchants and customers overseas who received valued commodities, there was a global acceptance.

“People participated in this directly and indirectly,” Becnel said. “As a country, it is very important that we all try to learn from this so we never make this mistake again and go back to this terrible institution.”

Upcoming events include:

Feb. 3 Black Out Injustice opening reception. The 5 to 8 p.m. event is $15 per person and presents what is shared on a daily basis at Whitney Plantation.

Feb. 4 Community Celebration. The free 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. event includes booths and attractions in a multi-cultural festival.

Feb. 7 Kids Celebration. The free 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. fun includes a shortened tour and plenty of hands-on dance and art learning for children.

Feb. 18 Genealogy Workshop. The free 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. event teaches attendees how to use oral histories to find people and documents with a relationship

Feb. 21 Black History Lectures. Xavier University is hosting the free 4 to 6 p.m. event in Wallace.

Feb. 26 Closing Ceremony. Organizers are opening the grounds to the public for their first formal blessing of the grounds and Antioch Church.

There is still time to learn more, plan a visit or seek sponsorship opportunities. Those interested can contact 225-265-3300 or email cbecnel@whitneyplantation.com.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.