Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

A visit to The Laura Plantation

Wick's World

 

Wick Fisher

A tiny cypress board shack stands at The Laura Plantation in New Orleans. These shacks housed slaves on the plantation.

It is only proper that as I write, it happens to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I am writing my column about a plantation tour my wife and I went on during our vacation in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here's a small slice of life from a Creole-owned plantation in the Deep South.

On December 30, 2014, my wife and I left New Orleans and took a 40-minute drive to a Creole family plantation that's named "The Laura Plantation." Creole custom dictated that once the owner died, a descendent, either male or female, upon reaching age 13, would then become the proprietor. However, a strange twist was added to this form of inheritance. It wasn't that the first 13-year-old would automatically inherit all of the land and the property that came with it, such as mules, horses, chickens, cattle and especially the cotton that grew upon the land. The man servants and maid servants, more commonly known as slaves, were also a part of the inheritance. But in Creole custom it was the brightest and most capable descendent who was at least 13 years of age who became the sole proprietor. One such inheritor was the woman we know as Laura Locoul Gore. An entire book was written about this lady in an autobiography titled, "Memories of the Old Plantation Home."

In 1993, Norman Marmillion and his wife, Sand, purchased The Laura Plantation with the intent of restoring its abandoned structures and open it as a tourist attraction. The ongoing project is nearing the final stages of completion. As fate would have it, one of the many tour guides who continually usher groups around the buildings and fields happened to call in sick the day we were there. My wife and I were escorted by a temporary fill-in guide. Our guide was Norman Marmillion, the present owner. Norman was filled with facts, legends and stories and kept a running a monologue from the beginning of the tour to the very end.

"There are 71 members of the Dominici family that still live on or around this plantation. You may know one of them. He goes by the name of Fats Domino."

Norman then pointed out the tiny cypress board shack where Fats was born. Like the other slave shacks that still remain standing today, this one had no running water, bathroom or cooking facilities. All food was cooked in a common kitchen.

During the slave days, when a girl turned 5, she became a food-runner. She arose each morning at 3 a.m., carried two buckets up to the cook house, filled them with food and distributed the meal to the 100-some houses that lined her block. A midday lunch was served under the shade of the cypress and magnolia trees near the cotton fields. The work day ended with the setting sun. This was the everyday life of a typical slave. The only way out was when they placed you in a wooden box where you escaped the hard, cruel world you were born into.

When a male turned 5, he was put to work in the cotton fields. At age 13, both boys and girls became adults and were expected to marry and produce more slaves for the plantation.

Once the Civil War ended, life for a person of color changed very little. The freed slaves still lived in the slave shanties and still picked cotton for wages. The money was returned to the plantation owner for the cost of room and board. Although hard to believe, this cycle of life lasted for the next 110 years.

It wasn't until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter signed into law LBJ's social service action to eliminate poverty, the descendents of slavery finally abandoned the cypress shacks that were still standing and occupied. A modern day type of welfare allotted food and dollars to the poverty-stricken thousands still living a slave-like existence. What happened next was the people spent their money on cheap trailers and created villages on the opposite sides of the cotton fields. We noticed that most of those trailers are still occupied today. Is this the progress Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned? I think not.

 

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