By Edmund D. Fountain
Hundreds of people marched along the Mississippi River this weekend in a reenactment of the 1811 German Coast slave uprising, the largest revolt of enslaved people in the history of the United States. The performance, the brainchild of artist Dread Scott, was six years in the making and sought to reclaim the history of the uprising.
In the river parishes outside New Orleans, the reenactors retraced much of the route of the revolt and concluded with a public celebration at Congo Square inside Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans. The reenactment was the first time the revolt has been reenacted at this scale.
The 1811 German Coast uprising began about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in what is present-day LaPlace, Louisiana. Slaves wounded plantation owner Manuel Andry and killed his son. Armed mostly with farming tools, the rebelling slaves moved down the Mississippi toward New Orleans and their numbers began to grow.
As word of the rebellion spread, some plantation owners moved across the river to escape the insurrection. A militia moved to intercept the rebelling slaves and killed approximately 45 of them. After the rebellion was suppressed, tribunals were convened and slaves who participated in the rebellion were executed by hanging or firing squad. Their heads were displayed on poles along the road leading to New Orleans to intimidate other slaves. Some 95 enslaved people were killed in the uprising and its aftermath.
Scott’s reimagination of the rebellion sought to invite reflection on how the past informs the present. “In addition to our country grappling with the long-reaching, present-day effects of slavery and oppression, it is important to acknowledge the power that resides in reimagining your own destiny,” he said. “We can learn a great deal from the many stories of that era.”
In LaPlace, Louisiana, reenactors perform a scene in which a plantation owner is killed. The two-day reenactment of the 1811 German Coast slave uprising started Friday morning.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Reenactors march past Entergy’s Little Gypsy power plant in Montz, Louisiana. The route they followed was once home to many plantations along the Mississippi River. These have been replaced by many industrial facilities, leading to the nickname “Cancer Alley.”Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Some of the reenactors were on horseback. The two-day event covered 26 miles.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
A reenactor boards a bus in LaPlace.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Bystanders watch as the procession makes its way past Emily C. Watkins Elementary School in LaPlace.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Reenactors on horseback pass through the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, Louisiana.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Participants wait to use the bathroom during a break.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Reenactors dance and sing while breaking for lunch.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Reenactors pause to take photos with their cell phones.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Chanting “freedom or death,” reenactors march through the French Quarter of New Orleans on Saturday.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Artist Dread Scott, second from left, marches through New Orleans. Scott spent six years planning the march in conjunction with other artists, historians and community members.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Bystanders watch the reenactors march through New Orleans.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
A reenactor wields a sugar cane knife.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN
Reenactors march through the French Quarter of New Orleans. The 1811 rebellion never reached the city, but in this recreation the second day examined what could have happened if it had.Edmund D. Fountain for CNN