In A Flash

Federal government to review proposed grain elevator’s risk to Louisiana slave burial sites

By: - August 30, 2022 3:54 pm
Slave descendants testify at United Nations

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will meet with the Descendants Project on Sept. 1, 2022 — two weeks after the group testified at the United Nations on environmental racism posed by industrial expansion Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. (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.

Slave descendants appeal to U.N. to halt St. John grain elevator

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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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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