NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Before her tragic and untimely death, Nancy Parker won five Emmy’s over the course of her career -- the first for a 2001 piece that told the story of a plantation on River Road, where many lived in servitude long after slavery ended.
But, true to Nancy Parker style, this story had a twist, complete with happy ending. Not only that, Nancy’s story also helped change the status quo, encouraging plantation tours to acknowledge the horrors of slavery, instead of ignoring them.
Revisit the incredible story here:
Along St. John Parish’s River Road there is a seldom told story. Here, the sugar cane was more valuable than the slaves that harvested it.
Carl Baloney’s family lived for more than a century behind the big house at San Francisco Plantation. While the Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of America’s future, it couldn’t change everything.
“The people who live in the plantation prior to slavery still lived on the plantation, even though slavery was ‘over.’ You’re told you’re free, but free to go where? So many just stayed there,” Carl Baloney said.
A young Carl lived on the San Francisco Plantation, too.
For five generations, the Baloney family lived in what was once the slave quarters, and then after slavery, the same housing was used for those who stayed at San Francisco Plantation.
Carl remembers these two back rooms, the holes in the walls, and conditions he called below substandard.
His grandfather was the bell ringer at San Francisco Plantation.
“It was run like a ship, everything was by a bell,” Carl remembered. “The bell would tell you when to get up. The bell would tell you when to knock off, the bell would tell you when you were late. Everything was by the bell.”
But, he wanted more for Carl’s father, Earl. His share of the work was covered so Earl could graduate from high school. He went on to serve in World War II, then to college and later became a successful mortician.
In 1954, Earl Jr. did what none of his ancestors could do: He moved his family off San Francisco Plantation.
“I was 7 years old when we moved off the plantation,” Carl recalled.
Still, nearly a century after the end of slavery, many Baloney relatives stayed. Eventually, some would work at the nearby Emilie Plantation, where Carl’s uncle Raymond had been the groundskeeper at the grand house for decades.
“He worked the grounds all his life, but had never been inside the big house. Never in his life,” Baloney said.
And Carl hadn’t been inside the Emilie house either, until 1998.
“There’s mixed emotions sometimes just pulling in the gate," he said.
Like his father, Carl decided to do something none of his ancestors dared.
“It was a terrible, wonderful thing that happened at that time,” Carl said.
The man who once lived on a plantation, bought one.
“When we first visited the house, I was really turned off by it. I had bittersweet feeling about what it took to build this,” Carl remembered. “[It’s] the old cliche of standing on the shoulders of others, is what got us to this point. And it’s from the work of my ancestors, my father that made it possible to get the education and money to buy it. That, in itself, made it OK.”
Now, the Emilie Plantation, the Grand Greek revival home, belongs to the Baloney’s decedents. The decedents of slaves.
Like his late father, Carl owns a successful funeral home business. Behind Emilie sits the old San Francisco Plantation Administration building, which now serves as Carl’s family’s guesthouse.
“As a child, I played on these steps, walking and playing. It’s strange, now these are my steps," Carl said. "I’m still in amazement, it’s a beautiful place.”
But for Baloney, the two-room shack of his childhood doesn’t seem so long ago.
“When we had the christening of the house, I could feel the faces of my ancestors pressed against the window looking in,” he said. “My father, I think he’d be smiling, one of the faces pressed against the window."
Carl Baloney died in 2017 at the age of 70.