[Blackstudies-l] How a Slave Market Became a National Park Service Site: ​Natchez, Miss.

Maria Helena Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sat Jul 3 10:12:31 EDT 2021


>From 1833 to 1863, Forks of the Road was among the largest slave markets in
America.
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July 3, 2021
Dan Gibson, fourth from right, the mayor of Natchez, Miss., and other
elected officials joined Kathleen Bond, third from right, the
superintendent for the Natchez National Historical Park, in unveiling new
signs for the entrance to the Forks of the Road slave market site.Imani
Khayyam for The New York Times
How the Truth of Forks of the Road Came to Be

By Brishette Mendoza

NATCHEZ, Miss. — When driving through Natchez, Miss., a town popular with
tourists, it is easy to overlook an awkwardly shaped patch of land, only
modestly marked by a few signs, free-standing exhibits and shackles
cemented in the ground.

But from 1833 to 1863, the land, Forks of the Road
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/a/jBMcy0LaG1zSpEF5Zz1Qsg~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRiwsi4P0TSaHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubnBzLmdvdi90aGluZ3N0b2RvL2Fib3V0LWZvcmtzLW9mLXRoZS1yb2FkLmh0bT9jYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIxMDcwMyZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0zNDUwOCZubD1yYWNlJTJGcmVsYXRlZCZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9NjI1NDYmdGU9MSZ1c2VyX2lkPTM5MzhmMTdkODE4MmEyMmZkZTE0NjdmZjlkMGJiNWM1VwNueXRCCmDduEPgYOS8dyhSEGxpbWFAZ2VuZXNlby5lZHVYBAAAAAA~>,
was among the largest slave markets in America. And now, local historians,
residents and officials are celebrating its recognition as a new national
historical park site.

Once long forgotten by many outside the region, Forks of the Road was where
tens of thousands of enslaved men, women and children were taken to work in
homes and plantations. The domestic slave trade was such a central feature
of the nation’s economy, and it made millionaires out of many Natchez
residents
<https://nl.nytimes.com/f/a/BdsiutbJNK3jGGtt4Y_jUQ~~/AAAAAQA~/RgRiwsi4P0T4aHR0cHM6Ly90aW1lc21hY2hpbmUubnl0aW1lcy5jb20vdGltZXNtYWNoaW5lLzE5NTEvMDIvMDQvODQ4MzM1MjAuaHRtbD9jYW1wYWlnbl9pZD0zNyZlbWM9ZWRpdF9ycl8yMDIxMDcwMyZpbnN0YW5jZV9pZD0zNDUwOCZubD1yYWNlJTJGcmVsYXRlZCZwYWdlTnVtYmVyPTEwMSZyZWdpX2lkPTQyNzQwODk3JnNlZ21lbnRfaWQ9NjI1NDYmdGU9MSZ1c2VyX2lkPTM5MzhmMTdkODE4MmEyMmZkZTE0NjdmZjlkMGJiNWM1Jnpvb209MTQuOTNXA255dEIKYN24Q-Bg5Lx3KFIQbGltYUBnZW5lc2VvLmVkdVgEAAAAAA~~>
.

In an emotional ceremony late last month in which the city donated nearly
three acres of land to the National Park Service, officials unveiled a
large National Park Service sign that now marks the acknowledgment that
residents and many outside the region said was a long time coming: “Forks
of the Road, Natchez National Historical Park.”

“History is not always pleasant, but it’s important that history be told,
all of it,” and particularly in this moment in America, said Dan Gibson,
the mayor of Natchez. He was elected in July 2020, as thousands of people
were marching in streets across the nation to protest systemic racism and
police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

“It’s a sad story,” he said of the history of Forks of the Road. “And I
think for many years, there are some who would have been satisfied to see
that story forgotten. But how can you forget it?”
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Many of the descendants of those once enslaved in Natchez — a
majority-African American city of about 14,600 residents — still live in
the area, Mr. Gibson said, and deserve to have their contributions to the
history of Natchez finally recognized.

A federal law passed in 2017 authorized the Natchez National Historical
Park, an 18.5-acre site, to preserve and interpret the Forks of the Road
plot, and there are plans to build an educational visitor center and a
memorial or monument.

In his keynote speech at the June 18 ceremony, the day after President
Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday, Senator Roger
Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, acknowledged that the country had been
the “the greatest experiment in democracy and freedom that’s ever been
known around the globe. But it’s also been a work in progress.”

He noted the irony of the historical street names that bound the location
of the Forks of the Road — at the corner of Liberty and Washington. “I
wonder if it dawned on the people participating there, what was done,” he
said.
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Kathleen Bond, the superintendent for the Natchez National Historical Park,
oversaw a study that paved the way for congressional support of the site.
Its significance, she said, is “an opportunity to tell the truth.”

“I’m a great believer in paradox, that you can hold things that seem
contradictory, but you don’t have the truth unless you’ve got the whole,
all the sides of it,” Ms. Bond said. “I mean, you can’t be here in Natchez
without seeing the beautiful architecture and the beautiful furnishings
that remain, after more than 150 years. But that was a beauty that was
built on an atrocity of violence and suffering and torture.”
Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-CM BoxleyImani Khayyam for The New York Times

Residents agree that this milestone was reached because local historians
saw an opportunity and worked diligently to ensure its reality.
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For more than two decades, Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-CM Boxley, plus the Friends
of the Forks of the Road Society Inc., lobbied for the preservation of the
site and a new, more complete telling of its history, which includes
remembering its role in the Civil War.

During the war, Colored Troops soldiers serving at Fort McPherson, the
Union’s post in Natchez, leveled the Forks of the Road and used lumber from
the slave pens to fortify its holding.

Ser Boxley, who was raised in Natchez but then lived in the San Francisco
Bay Area for 35 years after high school, observed upon his return in 1995
that the city’s tourism industry made it look as if white people had done
“everything all by themselves.”

“I decided that I needed to do something,” he said. So he looked for a site
“that spoke to a people’s history.” The Forks of the Road was that site.

Its significance is not limited to Black people, he said, but is part of a
more complete telling of the region’s history.

Mayor Gibson agreed.

“It doesn’t mean we stop telling the story that’s been told here for so
many years, about the Natchez Indians, about the French, about the Spanish,
about the English and the Americans,” he said. “All of that’s important,
but it is also time to make sure we’re telling the story that is the
African American history of our community.”

“I think this will build more unity here, but it will also bring more
tourists here,” he continued. “And it will also give people a sense of
belonging that I believe is long overdue.”

Natchez has long been a tourist attraction, with its views of the
Mississippi River and opulent mansions, but visitors crave the full story
of the town. And the community “wants to tell that story,” said Devin
Heath, the executive director of Visit Natchez.
The Melrose Estate, a two-story Greek Revival mansion preserved as part of
the Natchez National Historical Park. It is one of the best-preserved
estates in the Deep South from the mid-1800s.Imani Khayyam for The New York
Times

“How do we go forward together as one community?” he said, adding that the
descendants of the owners of the antebellum mansions weren’t the ones who
owned those who were enslaved, “they’re telling the story of the home.”

“Several of them have reached out to me and said, ‘We want to be a part of
telling the complete story, we just need the resources and support,’” Mr.
Heath said. “And so what we’re doing is trying to create that kind of
environment where they’ll have that information.”

Felicia Bridgewater-Irving, a city alderwoman who lives close to the site
and whose district includes Forks of the Road, said she often sees visitors
there. “If you ever visit there,” she said, “you’re emotionally filled with
what has taken place.”

Acknowledging that history, she said, makes it easier to move forward.

Her colleague, Valencia Hall, a city alderwoman who grew up in Natchez
during the Jim Crow South and whose ancestors include Colored Troops there,
said she was very proud to see Forks of the Road become a National Park
Service site.

“It tells us how far we have come in race relations,” she said, showing a
way “to honor one another as human beings, as people with humanity, with
dignity and honor.”

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Black
Workers Stopped Making Progress on Pay. Is It Racism?

Economists are grappling with how much to blame bias or a changing economy
for the widening wage gap over the last 40 years.

By Eduardo Porter
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They
Came to Slay: L.G.B.T.Q. Trailblazers

These artists, activists, entrepreneurs and mentors have been leading the
way and opening doors for other L.G.B.T.Q. people of color for more than 30
years. And they have no plans to stop.

By Derrick Bryson Taylor and Richard Williams
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