The Whitney Plantation: Learning Hard, Yet Important, Truths About America

by John Ellis

As much as I love New Orleans – the food, music, culture, interesting people, legally drinking a hurricane while walking around town – for me, the highlight of my family’s current spring break vacation in the Big Easy happens today. In a few short hours, my wife, kids, and I will tour the Whitney Plantation. The once-plantation-now-museum, “educates the public about the history of slavery and its legacies.” Unlike most (if not all) plantations turned museums in this country, the Whitney Plantation focuses on the slaves and their lives instead of focusing on the “famous” plantation owner with an obligatory section about the slaves. It’s important for my wife and I that our children learn the hard, evil truths about this country and their privilege. Taking them to places like the Whitney Plantation is one of the ways in which we try to fill the gaps in their education. And if left solely to their school, those gaps would be huge.

Part of our children’s privilege is that they get to attend a very expensive and academically rigorous private school. To be clear, we are thankful for the school; there is much to praise about it. However, like many private schools in the American south, an (un)healthy dose of God and country courses through the pedagogy.[1] For example, my son and I will soon be visiting Colonial Williamsburg with his class. During one of the meetings about the field trip with the parents, it was explained that unlike previous trips, this class will be visiting Mount Vernon instead of Monticello. The reason given was that on the last field trip, the tour at Monticello spent too much time on slavery and Thomas Jefferson’s racism. The school wants the kids to learn positive things about this country and its founders, we were told.

A couple of things: One, and I can’t wait to see their collective faces when they find this out, but Mount Vernon will be more of the same (thankfully). Two, I’ve toured Monticello, and unless they accidentally signed up for the guided tour that is intentionally focused on slavery, the docents’ comments are par for the course for most of these things (see #1 above about Mount Vernon). And considering the sentiment embedded in the school’s history classes, I highly doubt that whoever booked the tour accidently booked the slavery tour because it’s called … wait for it … “Slavery at Monticello Tour.” Three, white-washing history is a sin; my wife and I most definitely want our kids to learn about the horrendously sinful actions and beliefs of the founders of this country.

Learning the truth of this country is important for several reasons, but I’m only going to briefly mention two: One, it’s important to learn history truthfully if we are to have any hope of repenting and changing as a corporate people. GOP led states, including Florida where we live, are actively working to deny history, squash open and honest discourse, and foster the idolatrous and prevailing worldview of many white conservatives in this country – Christian nationalism. The explicit labor aimed at protecting (and furthering) white privilege is going to lead to further and worse evils in this country. My wife and I want to do what we can to ensure that our kids are willing to take a stand against this sin.

Two, the whitewashing of history calls us to worship false gods and place our identity and hope in things and people other than Jesus. Christian nationalists do not worship Jesus; they worship America. My wife and I want to do what we can to destroy the idols that they are constantly being pressured to bow before.

This is why my family’s visit to the Whitney Plantation will be the highlight of our vacation. Closing our mouths and listening to the voices of the oppressed will shine a spotlight on idols in our hearts and provide us tools with which to smash those idols. It will also serve as a counter (and truthful) narrative to the (false) narrative of God and country that inundates our lives.

Click here for a link to the Whitney Plantation. I encourage you to visit the site and consider visiting the museum in person.

[1] For those curious, the public schools in the area aren’t much better in this regard.

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