National Park Service
Interpretive Talk at Cane River Creole National Historical Park
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The Role of Slavery in Plantation Life - Cane River Creole National Historical Park

With an emphasis on scholarship and telling stories from many points of view, Cane River Creole NHP addresses the role of slavery in plantation life head on.

This is the story of civic engagement at Cane River Creole National Historical Park. In 1994, Congress passed legislation creating both the park and the Cane River National Heritage Area. The legislation authorized the park to "serve as the focus of interpretive and education programs on the history of the Cane River area and to assist in the preservation of certain historic sites along the river," to preserve Oakland Plantation and the outbuildings of Magnolia Plantation, and to use a culturally sensitive approach in the partnerships needed for addressing the preservation and education needs of the Cane River area. The legislation also called for the National Park Service to coordinate a comprehensive research program on the complex history of the Cane River region.

Creole women sitting on their porch in the Cane River region. (Historic photo) Creole women sitting on their porch in the Cane River region.
(Historic photo)

For Cane River we were fortunate to have considerable interdisciplinary background research on history, ethnography, architecture, and archeology in formulating the vision for the park. That, combined with the public involvement and the strong community commitment, gave the direction the park should take. Although both the Oakland and Magnolia Plantation units had historic structures and a very significant cultural landscape, changes to them over time and lack of information on their exact configuration in earlier periods resulted in only one appropriate action: Both properties were to look much as they did circa 1960 when the last of the tenant farmers and sharecroppers- most of whom were descended from former slaves-left the two plantations. That was the time when mechanization replaced mules and hands, and when the large cotton picker shed (large enough to hold a machine the size of a combine) replaced the long, low tractor shed. It was the end of an era, and an appropriate end date that offered tremendous opportunities for interpretation, for we were not limited by a set moment in time. We had continuum. Most visitors to southern plantations have little interest in anything other than the "Big House," and so much of that is something that we as a nation have brought upon ourselves.

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