Southern Culture Tour, Day 1: Annel Gonzalez

As I tossed a few last-minute things into my suitcase to depart on the Southern Culture Tour this morning, I had no idea I would have such an incredibly fun learning experience covering such a wide range of topics.

The Louisiana Capitol Building, Baton Rouge

Early in the day we visited the Louisiana State Capitol, which was constructed in 1932.  It is the tallest Capitol in the United States, standing at 450 ft. high. We went all the way up to the 27th floor and enjoyed a beautiful view that included other historic buildings, a multitude of leafy green trees and, of course, the mighty Mississippi.

Junior Fellows on the Deck of the Louisiana Capitol

From there we travelled to New Orleans, where we visited the graves of Homer Plessy and Marie Leavau at the St. Louis Cemetery #1. I was intrigued to see the grave of Plessy, in part because I have studied about him extensively in my Constitutional Law class.  In 1896, the court addressed  Plessy v. Ferguson and decided that separate facilities were constitutional so long as the facilities were, loosely speaking, “equal.”  This precedent, of course, was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Annel Gonzalez at Homer Plessy’s Grave, New Orleans

Also interesting was the grave of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.  It was surrouned with voodoo related items and covered with “XXX” left by visitors hoping to summon Marie’s “voodoo” powers and apply them to a wish of their own.

Junior Fellows at Marie Laveau’s Grave, New Orleans

My favorite stop of the day was the tour of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. In a matter of minutes my mood shifted from interest and excitement to respect, gratitude and admiration for all of the men and women who fought for our country. One particular story resonated within me: the story of the Sullivan brothers. Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan fought shoulder to shoulder but unfortunately lost their lives aboard the USS Juneau when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. It broke my heart to imagine what the brothers must have gone through at Sea. But it helped me remember how blessed I am to live in a country where people willingly lay down their lives for their loved ones. I found their story to be highly motivating; it inspires me to take advantage of all of the freedoms I enjoy because people have fought and sacrificed for us.

Our most relaxing activity of the day was when we took a pleasant stroll through the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, where we had the opportunity to see many unique and interesting sculptures. My favorite was a ladder leading to a window, a piece titled, “Too Late for Help” by artist Leandro Erlich.  Through a bit more research I learned that the structure was meant to reflect the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

Too Late for Help, by Leandro Erlich

Apart from Erlich’s work, we were fortunate to see work by artists such as Auguste Rodin and Jesus Moroles.  Interestingly, the Junior Fellows who did not travel with us on the Southern Culture Tour will be assisting with a Jesus Moroles event on Friday, when he is the featured artist at the opening of the CHSS Outdoor Classroom.

Granite Piece, by Jesus Moroles

To end the day we explored Bourbon Street, Jackson square, and a few local shops along the French Quarter. There were many interesting things to see: gas lamps hanging outside of the doors, hitching posts lining the streets, and beautiful balconies, often adorned with ceiling fans and hanging plants.

Today’s events were fun and interesting, with experiences that taught me about the  history of Louisiana, its government, and many historical figures.  It inspired me to take opportunities and make the most of them and made me wish I had more time to continue exploring and learning in New Orleans.  I am truly looking forward to what awaits us tomorrow.

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