The Descendants Project co-founders Joy Banner and Jo Banner testify at the United Nations Aug. 12, accompanied by other organizers from Louisiana to oppose industrial expansion in St. John the Baptist Parish on a site that could contain unmarked graves of slaves and slave descendants. (Photo courtesy of the Descendants Project)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will meet with the Descendants Project, a group of Louisiana slave descendants, to review whether construction of a proposed grain elevator in St. John the Baptist Parish might harm slave burial grounds and other historic properties. The meeting, set for Thursday, comes two weeks after Descendants Project members testified about the project before the United Nations at a conference in Switzerland.
The Corps of Engineers will conduct a review in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). The Section 106 review, according to the U.S. General Services Administration, must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions.
According to a Descendants Project press release, the Corps of Engineers also invited the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Evergreen Plantation, Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation, Louisiana Landmarks Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Whitney Plantation Museum, among others, to attend the review. The meeting is not open to the public.
The meeting follows months of the advocacy groups appealing to the Corps of Engineers to consider the concerns of residents in St. John and block the construction of the grain elevator. Descendants Project co-founder Joy Banner said the Corps responded only after she and other members traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, and took their concerns to the U.N.’s International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
While the Corps of Engineers has agreed to hold a Section 106 review, the agency has not yet decided whether to grant a construction permit for the grain elevator.
“The Corps of Engineers have yet to prevent the construction of the proposed grain elevator site, and with that, have failed to protect longtime St. John Parish residents,” Banner said. “We had to go halfway across the world and testify in front of a global audience in order to have our voices heard back home. We’re encouraged that this has prompted the Corps of Engineers to meet with us and consider the long term negative impacts this grain elevator will have on Black descendants, long time and future residents, and our Parish at large.”
Greenfield, the company behind the grain elevator project, contends that there are no unmarked graves at the site. Reached by email last month, a spokesperson referred to a web page the company set up to address this issue and others residents have raised.
According to the company, a cultural research firm Greenfield hired detected no signs of ancestral burial sites while surveying and conducting shovel tests on the land, though subsequent reporting by ProPublica cast doubt on the veracity of those claims.
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