RACE + FOOD HISTORY
Never Forget Black Americans Toiled For the Sugar You Enjoy Today
Unpacking the White Gold Rush in Louisiana, you never hear about in school
One of my earliest memories is running through sugar cane fields with my dad and big sister. While we lived in New Orleans, my siblings and I were born in Lafayette, and we returned to the countryside often to visit family. We'd stop the car, get out, and grab a few stalks to get a taste. "Don't worry. I know the planter," Dad always said.
Black folks in Louisiana have a long history with sugar. However, unlike other Southern states, which made most of their slave-trade money from cotton, rice, or tobacco, Louisiana was driven by a White Gold Rush. After reading Chapter 3 of The 1619 Project entitled Sugar and chatting with some fellow writers, I realized how few people outside Louisiana understand how the White Gold Rush impacted Black Americans.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad wrote, "During the antebellum reign, Queen Sugar bested King Cotton locally, making Louisiana the second-richest state in per capita wealth." So while you were more likely to learn about Black people picking cotton, sugar became the crop of choice in Louisiana due to its rich soil, and humid, sub-tropical climate. And like Dr. Muhammad noted, "none of this growth was possible without trafficking in human lives."
White colonizers captured and enslaved approximately 20,000 Africans to toil in Louisiana "between 1763 and 1812." Amongst them were some of my ancestors. Even though White slavers did not record their names, they sacrificed to make Louisiana, and in turn, America prosperous. Yet, we never learned about the history of sugar in Louisiana schools. In the sixth grade, we read one small paragraph about Black people. A crude illustration depicted Black people cutting down stalks of cane. The text referred to them as slaves as if they were born to toil and nothing more.
See, I come from a long line of Black people who labored for sugar in steamy hot weather so that White Southerners could have their precious sweet tea and cakes. During the Antebellum period, most Black folks had to do a "cakewalk," and perform for their "masters," if they wanted to taste…