When students taking Dr. Mark Van Rhyn’s American History class at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts walked into their classroom recently and saw a masking tape diagram on the floor depicting the meager space that slaves occupied during their “Middle Passage” voyage from the west coast of Africa and across the Atlantic to the New World, they were shocked.

When students taking Dr. Mark Van Rhyn’s American History class at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts walked into their classroom recently and saw a masking tape diagram on the floor depicting the meager space that slaves occupied during their “Middle Passage” voyage from the west coast of Africa and across the Atlantic to the New World, they were shocked.
“In history classes you hear about the slave trade, but often you don’t discuss what conditions they were transported under. Dr. V taught us about the conditions and how strong slaves had to be just to make it to the United States," said senior Hannah Strange, of Sterlington. "When I was lying in that tiny space, I thought about how cruel people can be just for the sake of turning a profit
Van Rhyn, an LSMSA history professor since 2004, teaches his students about the slave trading ships and the Middle Passage, which has come to represent the ultimate in human misery and suffering.
“Males were chained together, right leg to left leg,” Van Rhyn said. “Each slave had an area typically less than two feet by six feet, with less than five feet of head space. They were locked below decks with poor food, bad water, inadequate ventilation, and non-existent sanitary facilities. On a good voyage, only about one in seven died, either of disease, malnutrition or suicide, usually by jumping overboard when allowed above deck for brief periods of exercise.”
A typical Atlantic crossing took two or three months but some could last up to four months. History shows that between 10-16 million Africans were sent into slavery and between one and two million slaves died during the crossing.
"I was already becoming impatient after two and a half minutes of lying on the ground in such a tight space," said junior Placid Nwokorie of Gonzales. "I honestly can't imagine being in the same position for 10-12 weeks, even if it was a comfortable position. With all the other fatal aspects of the Middle Passage, comfort was not the question. Survival became the object, I’m sure, of every slave onboard."
“I think it is safe to say the Middle Passage was one of the most hideous experiences perpetrated by one group of humans on another," Van Rhyn said. "It was part of the greatest mass migration, albeit a forced migration, in human history."