MLK 50: Whitney Plantation tour guide ’embraces history’ of place where her ancestors were slaves

WALLACE, La. -- The Whitney Plantation is the only plantation museum in Louisiana to focus on the history of slavery.

For Courtni Waguespack, a tour guide at the St. John the Baptist Parish museum, it's much more than a job. The Whitney Plantation is where her ancestors once lived and worked as slaves

"It wasn't until I started working here and we came across some of the old plantation records... the company store records, I should say at that time, that I realized that my family was actually working on this plantation," she said.

Waguespack's unique role at the Whitney Plantation is one of several stories WGNO-News with a Twist is telling as part of MLK 50, the yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

Waguespack's family -- on both sides -- have lived along the River Parishes in the towns of Edgard and Wallace, settling just a few streets over from the plantation on which their ancestors were forced to work.

By exposing visitors on sacred grounds to not only her past, but the past of many blacks in America, she hopes to abolish ignorance and insensitivity through the therapy of family history -- no matter how painful some of the stories may be.

"When I look in the mirror.  I don't see an angry battered person.  I see someone filled with hope.  I think I see what my ancestors probably dreamed of all the time there were here enslaved on this property," Waguespack said.

Tracing family history for African Americans is not easy. Slave records are scarce, and many of them only include a first name. And what happened to the records once slaves were sold and renamed?

In that respect, Waguespack's family is one of few with a uniquely traceable lineage. It's through their legacy that Waguespack plants the seeds of healing.

If you want to find out about your own family, the National Archives has documents that date back to after the Civil War. The Freedmen's Bureau also maintains records of some slaves.

The Louisiana Slave Database, organized by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, has more than 100,000 entries in it, with a high percentage of birth places recorded between 1770 and 1820 in some of the River Parishes.