On a cloudy March afternoon, I climbed a levee in Montz, Louisiana, with the artist Dread Scott. The wind was whipping, and muddy water streamed through an open dam into the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The area, once home to sprawling riverfront plantations, is now dedicated to wildlife and recreation. But the day we visited, its hiking trails, off-road-vehicle courses, and historic cemeteries were under water. The crowns of submerged cypresses swayed in the current; across the spillway, the sprawl of Shell’s Norco oil refinery floated like a mirage. A sign on the barbed wire fence read, “No Trespassing, U.S. Government Property.”
Bonnet Carré hardly resembles the decorous greenswards of Gettysburg or Lexington. But this November, once its waters recede, Scott will lead some 500 costumed rebels over the spillway on foot and horseback in a reenactment of America’s largest-ever slave revolt. Chanting “On to New Orleans” and “Freedom or death,” they will retrace the little-known German Coast uprising of 1811 in a 26-mile march east along the Mississippi River, brandishing axes, muskets, blunderbusses, and cane knives as they cut an anachronistic swath through the nearby industrial towns.
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