An epiphany – the largest slave insurrection in US history

This is Wanda in Congo Square at the conclusion of the Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SRR) Nov. 8-9, 2019. “We marched into Congo Square after walking 22 or so miles from the German Coast over two days,” she writes. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

by Wanda Sabir

Over 100 years ago along the German coast of Eastern Louisiana, the largest slave insurrection in US history occurred Jan. 8-10, 1811. Encouraged by news of Haitian Blacks’ successful rebellion and tired of the horrific conditions on the sugar cane plantations, which were in themselves a different level of suffering, Africans decided they were going to be free or die trying. 

The planning meetings had been scheduled for at least a year and finally the day arrived. It was cold, it was wet, it was perfect – the Epiphany or Twelfth Night, Jan. 6, 1811, the month-long season of drinking and gambling and partying – debauchery common among the slave-owning class until Mardi Gras, followed by Lent and then the Resurrection Day. In other words, the white folks were running off to New Orleans and not paying much attention to their enslaved persons who were plotting a big surprise. There were signs though. Leaders in this Movement for Black Lives slowed down to a stop the incoming mail by attacking the postal carriers.

Dread Scott, artist, mobilized a Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SRR) Nov. 8-9, 2019, to honor these brave Africans, among them the more well-known leader, Charles Deslondes, who was “brought here from Saint-Domingue. One could say the 1811 Orleans revolt was a direct continuation on the American mainland of the [Haitian revolution]” (Thrasher 70). 

Dressed in period costumes, bearing banners or flags, drummers playing, voices raised in song, the SRR army marched. 

Others rode on horseback. Feet pounded the earth to the tune of never again. True to historical records, slave owners were killed and wounded. The SRR captured each precious moment of triumph. 

This group photo is at the armory where the enslaved Africans had hoped to get arms to wage the battle, but they didn’t get there. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Later in a battle near the armory, there was a final stand. Yet even in defeat the army, then and now, was triumphant! Africans welding rakes and shovels, hoes and machetes, cane knives and tree branches like rifles and muskets fought bravely to death and took a few white men with them. Those left standing were imprisoned, later killed. However, enslavement had steeled POWs to torture. There was nothing to barter if abolition and freedom from slavery remained unmet.

“Charles Gayarre, [a] well-known mouthpiece for the slave owners, grudgingly commented on [the army’s] exceptional organization: ‘They marched along the river toward the city, divided into companies, each under an officer.’ … ‘Some five hundred Blacks were involved [, Joe Taylor, another witness, concurred].’” (Thrasher 50-51). 

Do you believe that? Of course you do. Look at the white folks walking into the Capitol Wednesday. Skin kin forever trumps the law.

Members of the army were captured and executed after tribunals – Jan. 13-15, Jan. 18 and Feb. 2 – in different parishes and courts. The Africans were not invited or allowed to dictate or write their version of the story, so we will never really know the magnitude of this insurrection, but we do know it inspired many more after that until African people were freed.

The SRR continued to march into New Orleans where

The dead rose. 

This “resurrection day” our ancestors dream realized:

We nkisi. We magic. We indestructible. We back 1811-2019.

Gov. Claiborne was so impressed – terrorized perhaps? by our ancestors’ Black Power, he rewrote this history vilifying the victims and then buried the story for almost a century. 

Wanda stands at the statue of Haitian Gen. Henri Christophe in Cap Haitian, where he led Haitian slaves to defeat Napoleon. – Photo: Wanda Sabir

More than 500 strong – this powerful moving melanin soul-force had white folks running for their lives. Black folks were saying no more to such dominance whether this is in the Antilles, West Florida, Texas or Louisiana … The federal government initially refused to send troops in to help Louisiana regain control; however, Spain agreed to stop fighting the US in Florida while the white folks quashed this rebellion.

Do you believe that? Of course you do. Look at the white folks walking into the Capitol Wednesday. Skin kin forever trumps the law.

Canons and gunfire against rakes and hoes. Like MOVE on Osage Avenue standing against government bullets and bombs with faith and unarmed weaponry … these warriors also refused to fall. Our ancestors are still standing, despite occasional enemy scores.

Claiborne-Trump both cry “fake news.” Both rally slave owners and their sympathizers. “You are good people,” Claiborne probably said. “Don’t worry. I will take care of this if you support me and pay your taxes.”

The landowners who ran into New Orleans afraid all agreed as African heads rolled, were chopped off – bodies dancing eerily from nooses in the wind; designer roadside art feature – shorn nappy heads on metal spikes. Eyes defiant even in death – 

Yes, we cry genocide. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

White guilt is the body and the garment covering it.

He is risen.

Claiborne’s ghost lives in the White House. 

Eku – death is walking.

We are coming for you.

Notes

“On to New Orleans, Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt: A Brief History & Documents relating to the rising of slaves in January 1811, in the Territory of Orleans” by Albert Thrasher, 1995, 1996.

https://www.destrehanplantation.org/history/1811-slave-revolt

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/its-anniversary-1811-louisiana-slave-revolt-180957760/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany_(holiday)#:~:text=Epiphany%20(%2F%C9%AA%CB%88p%C9%AA,God%20incarnate%20as%20Jesus%20Christ

Bay View Arts and Culture Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.