Forest islands of our ecological diaspora
Across Louisiana's “Plantation Country,” aka “Cancer Alley,” Black antebellum cemeteries manifest as groves of trees interrupting a horizon of sugarcane plantations and petrochemical plants.
Between 1820-1865, enslaved people were forced to clear Louisiana's primordial forests to make way for the expansion of cane. They preserved small sections of forest where their loved ones were interred. These groves are both remnants of the erased bottomland hardwood forest and carefully stewarded microecologies – time capsules of lifeworlds that thrived against all odds in the back-a-plantations. There, enslaved people tended gardens and planted trees; organized dances and rituals; exchanged information and ideas; experimented with temporalities of freedom and plotted revolts. Today, their groves, which have survived generations of racial violence, industrial encroachment, and climate disaster, stand as the frontlines of more-than-human, intergenerational resistance to the continuum of extractivism.
Amazingly, Louisina's burial groves have echoes in the forest islands found across West and Central Africa. These islands are portals through which we can traverse space and time, constellating kindred ecological relations on both sides of the Atlantic, stitching our more-than-human bodies into an ecological diaspora. With these portals as entry points, this project intends to recover and remember the Afro-diasporic ecological praxes that ground, orient, and inspire non-extractive ways-of-being, uplifting ecological integrity as the heart of Black cultural inheritance.
Its outcomes include deep collaborative experiential research in Louisiana, Cuba, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; a gathering of Louisianan and African stakeholders in a Louisiana forest island in Fall 2025; films and installations; and a written doctoral dissertation in Geography.