I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Local sculptor Rod Moorhead commissioned to make memorial to infant slave deaths in the German Coast area of Louisiana

One of the things I’ve been collecting for some time is historical references to African-American fife and drum music.  This tradition has almost died out in the south– Othar Turner and his family in the Tate/Panola County area in Mississippi are an example of a tradition that has died out everywhere else in the south.  Yet I’ve seen historical examples from all over– Tennessee, South Carolina, and, most recently, the Columbus, Georgia area.

One thing that’s become clear to me is that there’s a political aspect again and again to fife and drum music.  During reconstruction, in one North Mississippi community, whites demanded that the blacks cease calling assemblies political assemblies with fife and drum.  In Jackson, the Second Baptist Church originated because blacks celebrated emancipation in the First Baptist Church there with fife and drum.  The former slave owners threw them out and they formed their own church.  These are a couple of a number of examples I’ve encountered.

One of the most dramatic involved one of the largest slave rebellions in America.  Here’s a description from Dena Epstein’s wonderful book Sinful Tunes and Spirituals (reading this, understand that “quill” means pan pipes, a form of cane fife):

In 1811 an uprising took place in St. John The Baptiste, about fifty miles above New Orleans with an army of insurgents consisting of “nearly 500 men and women … divided into companies commanded by officers. Their objective was the sack of New Orleans. They were goaded to a frenzy by the beating of drums and iron kettles, accompanied by the barbarous shrill notes of reed quills.”

This occurred in an area of plantations, already about a century old in 1811, called the German Coast along the Mississippi upriver from New Orleans.  These were sugar cane plantations, particularly brutal places.  One of the leaders of the rebellion was a free man who had been in Haiti; there were a number of slaves there that had previously been in Haiti.

So recalling this incident, and that I came away from reading about it that the rebellion set out to kill all the whites in New Orleans, I was fascinated to learn that my old friend Rod Moorhead, a sculptor here in Oxford, had been commissioned to do a memorial to 2200 African Americans who had died before the age of two in that parish prior to emancipation.  Apparently, the owner of the Whitney Plantation has access to written records that record those infant deaths, and commissioned the memorial.

I asked Rod for some pictures to post.  The first is the statute as installed; the second part of the installation process; and the third the plantation house.

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