We started the day at Whitney Plantation. This is the only one of the tours that we have been on that tells the story of antebellum Louisiana from the point of view of the slaves. Narratives here have been constructed from the stories that were collected by Alan Lomax and the Federal Writers Project. Because those stories come from people who were children at the time they were slaves, the statues on the plantation are all of children. It was a moving tour. The materials in the main building helped me understand both the Catholic Church’s complicity in the enslavement of Africans and the many routes from the many parts of Africa that the slavers took. Both overland and around Africa, the routes were brutal and the destinations for slaves numerous.

Whitney had two sugar mills, so they both grew and processed sugar. They processed the sugar for surrounding plantations as well. The giant bowls depicted above are where sugar would be cooked/granulated 24 hours a day.

Our second stop was Oak Alley. Look at this row of Live-Oaks:

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The trees were inducted into the Live Oak Society in 1995. They have NAMES!! They have a society! We did not tour the house as we had a hard time with the fact that the tour guides were all in hoop skirts. We had lunch, shook our heads at the fact that the giant irons pots that the sugar cane was cooked in were being used as planters, and headed back to Laura, a Creole plantation.

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Laura featured another incredible tour guide. He told stories and brought to life the family that lived here for generations. He explained what Creole meant – the Spanish/French/African/Native culture that existed in Louisiana before the Louisiana Purchase. French was spoken at Laura until the 1980s.

This tour looked at the women who kept this plantation going over the generations. I think an interesting truth our guide told was about Elizabeth, the grande dame of the plantation. He was explaining that her granddaughter thought that her grandmother became meaner as she got older. He said that slavery destroyed the humanity of the owners. He wasn’t excusing her. It was a fact. Inhuman acts create inhuman people.

It was so hot today. I think I melted on that last tour, but it was so worth it.


 

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Live-Oak, Laura Plantation, Vacherie, LA

by Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the branches;
Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself;
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves,
standing alone there, without its friend, its lover near—for I knew I could not;
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight in my room;
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them;)
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me think of manly love;
—For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend, a lover, near,
I know very well I could not.

 

Natchez. Pronounced like Matches. Compared to a city like Jackson, MS, it is a tiny little speck on the Mississippi. But that speck is OLD (one of the oldest settlements in the lower Mississippi), and because it was not held under siege for 47 days like Vicksburg, it survived mostly intact from the war.

I don’t really know how to weave this into a narrative. We went to three houses, and there is a real prestige still to be a part of the Garden Club that manages the public mansions. There is a pilgrimage (you read that right) in March – four weeks of all the private and public homes open for tours. We saw three. That seemed like a lot.

We started at Longwood. It’s unfinished because the workers were fromPhiladelphia, and when the war began, they dropped their tools and went home. The family lived in the 10,000 sq ft “basement” – essentially the ground floor of the house. Longwood is octagonal, and i was fascinated by air flow and the furniture. Here I learned how to pronounce two words I’d only ever seen in print – a tester bed (pronounced teest-er) and an epergne (ay-pern) and I learned the word punkah, a ceiling fan that is like a giant fin hanging over the dining room table. It was operated by a slave child who puled the rope and started the fan moving, shooing away flies and keeping the air moving. Egad.

IMG_7375Then to Stanton Hall – the house and grounds are on a full city block on the High Street. Seventeen foot ceilings and a dining room that seats 24, the docent there was quick to point out that slaves who worked in the home were called ‘servants’ – slave referred to someone who worked in the field. This house has incredible oiled bronze gasoliers and gas fireplaces. This house had a restaurant and silver shop on the grounds, and that building housed the portraits of the Pilgrimage Garden Club kings and queens who preside over the tableaux apparently – Oh, my, heavens. So much white dress. So much confederate uniform. Although this house was beautiful, that tour left a nasty taste in my mouth.

IMG_7420On to Melrose. After stopping to read the interpretive markers at Forks-In-the-Road, the location of a permanent slave market outside of Natchez, we took in Melrose, an antebellum estate that is part of the National Parks Service. Here there is a house that is slowly being restored by the Parks Service. They had limited hours this week, but we had a wonderful tour. Here slavery is faced directly. The building was built so that guests would never see the slaves as they kept the place working. Bells, screens, side doors – all made it possible for slaves to go about their work unseen. The house has 85% of the original contents (like the first mistress of the house bought 500 pieces of French china for the dining room). Incredible.

I wish we had been able to go to the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. There is such a rich history that we just did not see. That will be for another trip.

 


Windsor Ruins

01Jul16

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Evocative. Haunting. Unstable. Unlucky. Quiet. Windsor survived the Civil War only to burn to the ground, victim of a casual cigarette smoker.

We were the only people there mid-morning. It was peaceful, lovely, and a bit sad.

It’s a must visit.


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Wisconsin 12th Infantry Monument

I have never considered myself a Civil War geek, although my house was built in the 1860s, but I have always been interested in US History. When I was in four I created a pageant for my class of Lincoln’s last fateful trip to the Theater, and when I student-taught I had an American Studies class, and I was paying attention – I really was. But I never expected to be personally moved by Vicksburg Battlefield.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first day of fighting on the Somme. I’ve read that anywhere from 57-60,000 British Soldiers died on the first day of fighting. It eclipses the Siege of Vicksburg in numbers of casualties, and I am sure that walking those trenches and earthworks makes the hair on your arms stand up. Certainly that is what happened to me at Vicksburg.

Walking the landscape it was clear to me how the people of Vicksburg could have held the city. Geography would have been to their advantage. IMG_7111

Last week my brother told me that my great-grandfather was at Vicksburg, with the 12th Wisconsin Infantry. Knowing that, it was easy to find his name on the wall of those who served from Wisconsin. Initially I looked for his name among the musicians as the only photo that I have seen of him from that time has him depicted with an over-the-shoulder sax horn. But I found his name in the listing of the soldiers.

I had not anticipated how this would feel. Whether it was the heat (it was hot, it was midday) or whether it was relief that he returned to Wisconsin and fathered all those children. Still, it was overwhelming to know that he was a part of the history of this place at that time.

Down at the river, the ironclad Cairo has been raised from her muddy grave. The museum is impressive, filled with the everyday objects of life aboard the vessel. It went down fast after it hit a mine in the river, but all hands were saved. Under a giant marquee tent is the preserved wreckage. I love all the engineered lumber used in the reconstruction of the ribs of this ship.

 

 

 


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Medgar Evers home in Jackson, MS. He was assassinated in his driveway.

 

A good friend of mine who teaches at a private school in NYC invited me to join her on her summer ramblings. She teaches Huck Finn, and she wanted to get closer to the River and to Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. She was starting in Cairo, IL and driving down to New Orleans. I said YES, and flew to meet her in Jackson, MS.

I have never been to Mississippi, and I must say that I think they invented humidity. That said, I do like it. People are lovely. You will learn their life story if you give them the slightest encouragement, and the pace is slow. It’s late June and it is hot. I am reminded often of a text that I teach, To Kill a Mockingbird. “A black dog suffered on a hot day,” Scout the narrator tells us. And indeed, no one is out on the street in this heat. As our Natchez landlord said, “I don’t call this walkin’ weather.”

Jackson, MS (like all the cities that we have visited so far) is a real place. Real people live there. It is not a museum or living history. From maintained homes in manicured neighborhoods to real poverty and what appears to be FEMA tagged houses. There is the ability to look right into the eye of past injustice (the Jackson Civil Rights Driving Tour is one gut punch after another) and the use of the passive voice as a means of avoiding the reality of enslaving people to make an economy and a way of life possible.

We had a nice meal of Gulf shrimp at a local spot where it was trivia night. We stood on Medgar Evers driveway and imagined his assassination. We poked through the Old State House and marveled at whose portrait does (and does not) appear there and the impressive use of the passive voice.

We toured Eudora Welty’s house and gardens. She was a delightful woman, it seemed – with a sense of humor and many talents. She worked as a photographer as well, and her photos are really wonderful with a humanity that I really love. She was an avid writer of letters, and she carried on a wonderful, flirtatious correspondence with Ross Macdonald that has been collected in a volume (delightfully titled Meanwhile There Are Letters). I could write in that house, a Tudor Revival with some wonderful light and public/private spaces.

Jackson was a great place to start this trip. So far Vicksburg and Natchez have very different focus points, and will get their own posts.

“It isn’t as it used to be in the old times. Then everybody traveled by steamboat, everybody drank, and everybody treated everybody else. ‘Now most everybody goes by railroad, and the rest don’t drink.”
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi


"Practice in spite of how you feel right now." - Barry Harris - Photo credit to @EricaTheMaker

“Practice in spite of how you feel right now.” – Barry Harris – Photo credit to @EricaTheMaker

Day three at Constructing Modern Knowledge began with some project work. In the morning we were treated to a panel discussion between Edith Ackerman, another MIT Media Lab connection, Deborah Meier, and James Loader from Australia.

I have always admired Meier, and it was a real pleasure to hear Ackerman talk so passionately about the right of those in early childhood (and all children) to learn through play. She reminded the room that “kindergarten” – literally child garden – was Froebel’s term for a place where children would be nurtured in their own way – just as we nurture all plants in a garden for their specific needs.  Meier talked about the intellectual stimulation of working with young children. They are mind-blowing in the way that they understand the world.

The panel reminded me to think about and the learning environment that I am creating for my students. How can I make it a place that is a model for a good life? How can I make my class a more democratic space where all voices are heard and valued and we learn how to dissent? I know that when I get back home I will need to change up my room space to make it more open. I need to take up less real estate in the room (books, table, desk).

After lunch we all dove back into our projects and then Gary insisted that we all take a break and listen to the jazz masters, Dr. Barry Harris and Jimmy Heath. I was worried because the room we are in is incredible as a project space, but it’s a big room with lots of hard surfaces -and they’ve had a hard time with sound support for speakers.  I shouldn’t have worried. The acoustic instruments (tenor sax and grand piano) sounded great in the space, and the two musicians were brilliant story tellers and master teachers. What a delight.

So what about my project?

A Section Heading

A Section Heading

Well, after poking at and staring at and reading and walking trough tutorials on xcode, I let out a heavy sigh. Gary had suggested earlier that iBooks Author might be the right choice for this project, and after doing some research, I believe he is right. What is even better, this can be a much more collaborative project with my students. I can have teams of students working on text, getting high resolution images of the art, and doing some additional digging. When the book gets updated, and it WILL be updates, everyone who ahs a copy will be notified that there is an update. So I started putting together the architecture of the book. You cannot move pages, it seems, but there are other flexibilities and nice templates.

Spider by John Henry

Spider by John Henry

I can choose photos with captions or photos with text – this is a nice feature as not all pieces of art have the same depth of information.  For instance – We know almost nothing about the abstract sculpture in the front of the building, BUT we know a ton about another abstract – lovingly called the French Fries by students.  This is an entry that will go to two pages, where others may be a basic caption with title, artist, and location.

Using iBooks Author will be great – we are a 1to1 iPad school from 5-12th grade and there are classroom sets in the lower school. Although some limitations will make me a little cranky after working with Adobe InDesign to publish the class anthology, I think the accessibility will be compelling.

So?

That freed me up to play in the MicroWorlds environment – and I tried to remember the things that I knew. Fortunately the software has a lovely vocabulary help feature, so I was able to do THIS:

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 1.40.18 PMI had to remember all the details about heading, pen up, pen down, pen color, and the whole x y coordinates aspect of the page. Then I tried page 2:

Page 2

Page 2

Cleaner shapes, more color, tighter overlap. Now, I need to figure out how to get it to RUN. What’s the trigger? A button most likely – still need to work on that.




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