Freeway Free down the Mississippi: the Shadow of Slavery
Floating down the Mississippi on a multi-tiered cruise ship, I was inevitably sucked into the “Gone With the Wind” myth. We docked up at a number of pillared plantation homes. We saw a home where James Audubon was employed as a tutor to the children, and drew his marvelous bird protraits from taxidermy models he had made. We walked down a oak-lined alley with a lovely double-decker veranda’d mansion at the end of it. We saw portraits of blonde children in lace-trimmed dresses, and dainty embroideries done by the ladies of the house. And always the dark shadow of the enslaved people who made it all possible lurked behind, only barely acknowledged.
I believe it started with climate. In this hot, humid region, African laborers were prized over Europeans because they had better tolerance for the climate. Once that advantage was established, economics took over. If there is a demand, someone will supply it.
The restored mansions include lovely murals, swooping staircases, and even the apparent remains of a poker party – one can imagine Scarlett O’Hara lifting her skirts as she goes up the stairs, or Rhett Butler sweeping up the chips with a rakish grin.
But the musty flavor of slavery still permeates. In the dining room where crystal cut-glass sparkles, a huge fan hangs over the table – it would have been pulled back and forth by a silent slave in the corner.
Until I read this, I hadn’t realized that James Audubon had once been a tutor.