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."