“On to New Orleans! Freedom or death!”
That was the rallying cry of hundreds of enslaved people in Louisiana more than 200 years ago, during the largest slave revolt in US history.
A reenactment of the 1811 German Coast Uprising brought the past to life this week, as participants retraced a two-day, 42-kilometer march to New Orleans. Armed with machetes and dressed in period costumes, people beat drums and chanted for their rights as they walked past the oil refineries and trailer parks that have replaced the sugar plantations of the nineteenth century.
The event was the brainchild of performance artist Dread Scott. He said those rebelling against slavery are “unsung heroes” who shatter the myth that black Americans were complicit in their enslavement. Largely overlooked in history books, these brave souls should be seen as a source of inspiration and dignity for those fighting against modern-day oppression, Scott said.
Ultimately, the rebels did not succeed in abolishing slavery during their time. Many were executed and their heads mounted on spikes to serve as a warning to other would-be protesters. But rather than end with violence, the reenactment closed with an alternate, more uplifting ending – the defeat of white militia men and a cultural celebration.
In this episode we ask, why have slave rebellions been left out of American history? Join the conversation.
On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
A Slave Rebellion Rises Again – New York Times
Hundreds March In Reenactment Of A Historic, But Long Forgotten Slave Rebellion – NPR
Dread Scott’s “Slave Rebellion” Promises an Empowering Take on the Historical Reenactment Trope – HyperAllergic
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