The Preservation and Transformation of Destrehan Plantation: Physical Geographies and Social Landscapes of White Supremacy in Twentieth Century South Louisiana



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Certain regions of the American South are known for their plantation house museums that attract large numbers of tourists every year. One of the most popular regions, the River Road of South Louisiana, occupies a portion of the Lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Most River Road plantation museums’ institutional narratives, the content conveyed to visitors during a site tour, centers around the late-colonial and antebellum periods from the late 18th to the mid 19th century and maintains the historical perspective of the white Creole planter elite. Plantation tours rarely detail the site’s 20th century history, or the history of the museums themselves. The narratives that costumed interpreters present to visitors during daily tours carry an immense weight and responsibility of understanding our past, that in turn, affects our future. In the following essay, I argue that through the 20th century history of River Road plantations, we can trace the preservation of white supremacy post-emancipation and South Louisiana’s racialized class system. A critical analysis of the Destrehan Plantation in St. Charles Parish demonstrates the preservation of white supremacist social and economic dynamics during the plantation’s 20th century transformation from agricultural capitalism to the production of historical memory.



Southern History, Plantations, Twentieth Century, Labor History, Louisiana History, Public History, Museums