End or Change the Audubon Pilgrimage
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For those of you that don't know, the Audubon Pilgrimage is a weekend celebration of John James Audubon, who came to St. Francisville, LA in 1821 to, "tutor the daughter of Oakley Plantation's Pirrie family, beautiful young Eliza," according to the West Feliciana Historical Society's website. The city has, "thrown open the doors of significant historic structures to commemorate artist-naturalist John James Audubon's stay as he painted a number of his famous birds." During this celebration, people dress in costume of the 1820s and tour plantation homes. Slave houses are never shown and the Black community does not attend. (See their website for pictures)
I understand that the Pilgrimage is a tradition that a lot of people cherish and is a good form of tourism for our small town. I understand that it was created to celebrate an artist. But in turn, it celebrates slavery by hiding that part of the 1820s from the tour. If it truly is going to be an exploration of the past, we have to see all sides of history at that time.
I grew up going to the Audubon Pilgrimage wearing the dresses and dancing the Maypole. It was an enjoyable part of my childhood. But time, reflection and listening and learning from the Black community has made me realize that the Pilgrimage is part of the system of oppression.
When students are brought to the Rural Homestead for field trips, white and black students are either given or encouraged to buy wooden paddles engraved with their name and whips, both objects used to torture slaves, without any explanation.
I remember going to Oakley Plantation on a field trip and the whole plantation life being glorified and the real history of oppression never was told to me or my black classmates. We didn't see the slave quarters and they were never even mentioned as being a part of this "educational" field trip.
When you really think about it, the Audubon Pilgrimage is a celebration of slavery. Does our Black community come out and do plantation tours and dress up "like the good old days"? No. Because the "good old days" are only for the white people who gained money off of slave labor and continue to benefit even today.
If the Pilgrimage is to continue, it should reflect ALL of the history of the 1820s, not just the white history. There should be museums and murals showing the plight of the slave in the South. It should show that the wealth in the South was built by unpaid slave labor. History and racism will continue repeating itself if we don't teach what actually happened from all perspectives, not just the wealthy slaveowners.
A quote from westfelicianahistory.org:
"The West Feliciana Historical Society was founded in 1969 to foster an awareness of local history in the belief that a communal sense of continuity and a common past can give hope for the future and help for the present. The certainty that a known past and a sense of place open the doors of the mind has guided its endeavors." - Elisabeth K. Dart
If this is true, why hasn’t local history ever focused on the Black community’s history in our parish? We don’t have a common past. Our white ancestors were slave owners and our black ancestors were slaves. 52% of residents in our parish are White and 46.5% are Black. Almost half of our residents’ past is being ignored. If we continue to ignore our past of oppressing black people, we continue to perpetuate racism in our parish and state.
I am asking that the Audubon Pilgrimage either be cancelled in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or be changed to illuminate BOTH sides of history in the 1820s. To do that, we can’t ignore the plight of the slave in the South.
If the Pilgrimage is to go on, and children are continuing to go on field trips to plantations and the Rural Homestead, I suggest that there be a museum dedicated to how life was as a slave. We shouldn’t be glorifying “the good old days” of plantation life and sweeping the rest of history under the rug. A coalition should be created to bring artifacts and photographs together to give students a view of all sides of history.
Let’s come together to make our town a better place for ALL people.
City and parish leaders: I urge you to do something about this and speak up. Our town must change.
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