When my parents said that we were taking a spontaneous trip, visiting the family cemetery was definitely not what I had in mind. Traveling over two hours to Melrose, Louisiana was not my idea of fun. Melrose is a small town, smaller than my hometown of Lake Charles, with a population of 42 and extremely bad cell phone reception. We all piled up in my mom’s van and headed up to our family cemetery in Melrose.
When we reached my great grandfather’s grave, we placed tulips on his grave and then walked around the rest of the cemetery. While we walked around, we discovered that Clementine Hunter was buried in the cemetery. She is not a member of the family, but she is a self-taught African-American folklore artist who lived years on Cane River (Melrose). She was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I was really excited to learn that someone of that caliber was buried in my family’s cemetery. The cemetery is located behind the St. Augustine Catholic Church, which I found out was built by my ancestors. The church was established by Nicolas Augustin Metoyer in 1803 and still has Catholic services held there today. His brother, Louis Metoyer, was the chapel’s builder and designer. The church is famous for its reverse racial roles in the 19th century as the Metoyer family, even though they were African-American, occupied the front pews and prominent white families occupied the back pews.
After visiting St. Augustine Catholic Church, we visited Melrose Plantation, the former Metoyer family plantation. The plantation does not belong to my family today, but it was built by my family. Louis Metoyer owned the plantation and Clementine Hunter lived and created her masterpieces on the plantation. The plantation is truly beautiful. It is a National Historic Landmark and daily tours are offered to the public. At first I was not excited to go on this trip, but I enjoyed learning about my family history and I cannot wait to go back to Melrose.
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