From Tourist to Pilgrim: My Whitney Plantation Experience
By Nichelle Jones, member of the Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation
While tourists and pilgrims are both on a journey, tourists visit places for pleasure, to satisfy their senses and interest, normally when vacationing often preoccupied, unaware and not in the present moment. Pilgrims have a sense of sacredness, often going on long journeys with a moral or religious purpose and tend to be in the present moment.
I have been blessed to live and visit foreign countries and numerous states in the 53 years since my birth. Each place I have visited created memories that seemed to last a lifetime. Visits to
Mexico, Savanah, GA, Vicksburg, MS, New Orleans, Montgomery, AL and even East Germany and East Berlin (when the Berlin Wall divided Germany). However, spending time at Whitney Plantation on March 19, 2022, the experience was altogether different for this time I transformed from a tourist to a pilgrim. Now, my transformation didn’t happen instantly, it was one that took place gradually over three visits to Whitney.
Whitney Plantation is not your typical plantation; while other plantations glorify plantation life, Whitney provides us insight into plantation life of the enslaved person. My first experience was on a Black History trip with people who looked like me. Our tour guide guided us through the plantation providing us with a plethora of information and numerous pictures were taken. The experience of this visit was enlightening although I did not retain a lot of the information I received. My transformation from tourist to pilgrim began during the second visit when I experienced it with my husband and a couple who didn’t look like me in preparation for a 100-member pilgrimage.
When I arrived at Whitney Plantation for the third time, I had finally transformed into a pilgrim, for this time I was not on a trip taking pictures and wandering aimlessly, I was on a pilgrimage full of moral purpose and being in the moment. As I walked the hallowed grounds of Whitney, I felt sadness, pain, anger, and frustration. Sadness for the brutality and death of those who were enslaved and pain for children who were born into slavery. The feelings of anger and frustration were from the way another human thought it was okay to treat another just because of the color of their skin and the way some in our society seemed to long for the plantation days.
A tourist visiting Whitney Plantation will look around, take mental and physical pictures, only to come back and do it all over again. An individual on a pilgrimage at Whitney Plantation will consider their time there sacred, for what they have seen, heard, and felt will have moved them to a place of reflection and searching.
So, I will ask just this once, are you a pilgrim or a tourist?
NOTE: The Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation recently led a community growth experience using pilgrimage to Whitney Plantation as its centerpiece. Funded by a grant from the Becoming Beloved Community Advisory Committee to the Presiding Bishop, this experience began two weeks in advance to meet new friends, study, sing, discuss and begin preparations, then making the physical trip to the plantation in Wallace, LA, then gathering two weeks following to discuss what it meant as pilgrims and where do we go from here as a community. Please see our website at https://www.diocgc.org/racial-justice-and-reconciliation and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/racialjusticeandreconcilation/ All are welcome to join in.