The Slave Cabin and Tenant Farmer Project of the National Park Service

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THIBODAUX, LaThe National Center for Preservation Technology and Training is a branch of the National Park Service. Last September, they began work on a two-year project; collecting data that will be used to construct a 3D virtual world of what slavery and period of sharecropping would have looked like.

Jason Church is the Chief of Technical Services and says “We’re doing 3D digital documentation of still standing of slave and tenant cabins. Today we are at what was once Laurel Valley Plantation in Thibodaux, Louisiana. This was a very large sugar plantation.  We have observed a few buildings that are of pre-civil war era.  A lot of them are turn of the century, from the 1800’s.”

The project began with collecting about 60 plantations in the state of Louisiana and it will stretch all across the country.

A laser scanner device is used to shoot light to millions of points, in order to build a 3d image and map. Sreya Chakraborty is a researcher on the team and believes the work is fun and feels they are in a sense, facilitating time travel, saying “What we create is called a story map.  You will see our maps and understand the geographical and visual context of these settings.”

Although the cabins have been around since the majority of the existence of the United States of America, the work is time sensitive. Every day, new factors cause the history of the buildings to crumble, along with their stories. Hurricane season makes old structures especially vulnerable and the team has witnessed cases where cabins were available for documentation one day and then collapsed on the second day, because of the weather.

Beyond the visual element, the research team is conducting interviews from survivors who have lived on plantation cabins in the country. Some of the cabins housed residents well past the years before the civil war. The period of sharecropping held some families who were tenant farmers on the grounds of the enslaved well into the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Patrick Simoneaux is a resident that lived at Laura Plantation in Vacherie. He and his family were sharecroppers and he says, “I was born June 1964.  I was at the plantation since I was ten years old.  My mom and dad worked in the sugarcane field.  My dad drove the tractors and my mom walked the rowes of the field.”

Jason Church says, that the overall goal of the project is to present the every day American with a better idea of the length of America’s slavery and legacy on race.

“We really want to be able to tell the story of people who lived in these structures.  We don’t only want to talk about slavery but also sharecropping tenants.  Sharecropping is a whole system forgotten.  We talk about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks.  We forget about the hundred years in-between.  What was their struggle like” says Church.

Currently the Researchers are in the state of Maryland and are continuing their project. They are searching for additional oral histories and they want any family that has a recent story to tell about sharecropping, to contact them. You may do so by clicking here.

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