City’s historic Forks worth preserving

Published 12:05am Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In just a few days, the Natchez Planning Commission will make a major rezoning decision that will impact the future of the Forks Of The Road historical enslavement grounds.

Since Natchez is a place where history and remembrance have always been revered, it is distressing to think that such an important part of our city, our state and our nation’s history as represented by The Forks could be destroyed forever in a single short-sighted decision.

Think about what is being considered when the Forks Of The Road is discarded. It is a site as important as any in America’s past, and not just the persons of African descent. In a new book, “Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and The Troubled History of America’s Universities,” MIT professor of history Craig Steven Wilder recounts the impact the slave trade had on the establishing of some of our most prestigious colleges and universities.

We are still learning about the impact of the domestic slave trade in the growth of America during the antebellum period.

With tourism being such a vital part of our economy, as the commission prepares to make this important decision, we as a community must ask ourselves if it really makes sense to put any commercial business or housing on the site of the second-largest domestic slave market in America. The Forks is listed as the City’s fifth pillar of tourism in the City’s adopted 20-year comprehensive plan.

Tourists have been visiting Natchez for years to take the annual pilgrimage tour of historic homes and witness the pageantry of a heritage that many revere. The Forks deserves no less a profile in the community’s shared history. Is is not a contradiction to have the Forks as a fifth priority of tourism in your 20-year comprehensive plan on the one hand, and on the other hand allow the obliteration of the only remaining vacant land by construction of tax-credit housing?

Contrary to what some may believe, saving Forks Of The Road is not at all about revenge or settling old scores. It is in its own powerful way, a place of American remembrance, and to honor ancestors, who labored through tremendous hardship to persevere, help build and develop a new land, and fight for their own freedom in a nation that we all call “home.”

History cannot be denied nor forgotten. But it can be wiped away. However, we can heal by making peace with the past and learning from it. No man is an island! Relationships, harmonious relationships, can be developed when we understand one another.

As the daughter of a businessman and a life-long Natchez resident, I can appreciate a need for development and the construction of affordable housing in our community. But in a city that requires strict adherence to historic preservation down to the paint on a building, can a historic site as significant as Forks Of The Road be wiped out without outcry from all who love history? I hope not.

Preserving half of the remaining site of The Forks and finding a more suitable location for affordable housing is something the community can and should support. Please let our elected officials and planning commission members know that you agree. The Forks is worth saving for all of us.

Joyce Hunt Washington is a Natchez resident.