Heart of Louisiana: Evergreen Plantation

St. John Parish - A year ago, FOX 8 showed you the oak covered slave quarters behind Evergreen Plantation in West St. John Parish. At the time, it seemed there was little interest in the community from residents who may have ancestors linked to the historic property.

Behind the big house at Evergreen Plantation are 22 slave quarters. At one time, the stark wooden cabins were home to a hundred slaves.

Two dozen people, including historians and African-American slave descendants, recently spent the night there. It was a memorable night as torches push back the darkness flickering against the bare walls, the stillness stirs the imagination that begins to connect with almost forgotten lives.

"My grandmother and my mother's family all came from this area. I still have relatives here, so coming here, feeling the presence of my direct ancestors is very special for me," says Jamilah Yejide Peters-Muhammad.

The slave cabin sleepovers were started by Joseph McGill of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He says they help African-Americans honor the accomplishments of their ancestors.

"These people brought a knowledge that was sought after, so you know, that's something that we need to be proud of," McGill says.

One of the goals at Evergreen Plantation is to become a resource for the local community, where families who have lived in the area for generations can begin to learn more about their ancestors.

Evergreen has one of the most intact collection of slave buildings in the south.

Jane Boddie has managed Evergreen for the past 15 years and is now beginning to see some interest from local African-Americans.

"This is their story, so you wait until they ask questions rather than superimposing your ideas," Boddie said.

After sleeping here, Ronald Dumas says this experience is important for his family's future.

"It's going to be an everlasting memory for me. I have something now I can really share with my grandkids and my great grandkids. This is real," Dumas said.

The stories behind the simple wooden cabins are as important as the grand plantations homes. The people who slept there are the source of the knowledge, the skills and labor that created a thriving farm economy in the south.

Evergreen Plantation has 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places making it the most intact plantation complex in the south. The property is open for tours. For more information, go to http://www.evergreenplantation.org/