WALLACE, La. (BRPROUD) — The sounds of chainsaws and the sights of twisted metal among uprooted oaks clutter the sacred grounds of The Whitney, one week after Hurricane Ida ripped through St. John the Baptist Parish.
“It’s been through a lot now, but historically it’s been through a lot” said Dr. Joy Banner, a descendant of enslaved Americans at The Whitney and member of the museum’s non-profit board.
As she surveys the damage left behind by one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, she’s still processing the unforgiveable wrath of mother nature.
“There were many shocking, horrifying moments for me” she recalled. “When I saw the [slave] cabins completely flattened and demolished, it was such a heart sinking feeling. I didn’t realize the damage to the church was done until a couple of days later and walked up to the church and realized the door was completely blown off of its hinges” she said.
The First Community Antioch Baptist Church was built 151 years ago by freed men and women just across the river. It’s one of the historic and original structures now damaged in the storm, on the grounds of the only plantation known to tell the story of slaver through the often untold narratives.
“Whitney is the only plantation that focuses almost exclusively on the lives of the enslaved people” said. Dr. Banner. “It’s very much centered on the life and labor and the contributions of the enslaved Africans and their descendants”.
After deciding too late to evacuate ahead of Ida, Dr. Banner found herself riding out the category four storm in a house her ancestors built, but also feared.
“We were there for 16-17 hours and it was very scary; at one point a piece of the chimney collapsed and fell on the roof, a huge branch from the oak tree fell on the roof so we didn’t know if the roof was going to collapse” said Dr. Banner. “Winds howling the whole time, but we did feel as secure as we could in that type of situation, but we did feel odd because I imagined my ancestors and the fear that they would get from this house and here we were seeking it as a place of refuge” she said.
While some of The Whitney’s physical history has been damaged or destroyed, what the storm couldn’t shake, is the strength and resilience that’s rooted in its sacred grounds; grounds Dr. Banner is determined to restore. Weathering the storm, to continue the assignment.
“There’s such a desire to push slavery out of our minds and just focus on the good times, but when we do that we push away the contributions of enslaved Americans” Dr. Banner said. “These are Americans, our first Americans, they’re our patriots, they’re our revolutionaries and we need to understand and appreciate and educate people on how much of the backbone the country is built on them and their labor” she said.
The fruits of which continue to protect and keep watch over the children of Whitney.
The Whitney is primarily funded through visits and private donors. Prior to the pandemic, they were averaging 100,000 visitors. That has since changed and now they’re facing another blow being closed due to the storm. They are accepting donations. Donations can be made online via The Whitney website.