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Board to hear Forks of the Road application

SAm gause | The Natchez Democrat The sign at the Forks of the Road Historical Site is seen  Wednesday.
The sign at the Forks of the Road Historical Site is seen Wednesday. (Sam Guase/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Nearly 150 years after the second-largest slave market in the country closed in Natchez, the Forks of the Road could take one step forward on the journey to becoming a landmark site.

On Tuesday, the Natchez Board of Aldermen will hear an application from three organizations seeking to designate the area near St. Catherine Street and Liberty Road where nearly 2,000 salves were brought to be sold a landmark.

The Natchez Preservation Commission agreed May 14 to recommend to put the site under their jurisdiction pending approval from the board.

The application for landmark status of the Forks of the Road was made by the Friends of the Forks of the Road, the Historic Natchez Foundation and the Natchez National Historical Park.

If the proposal is accepted, Forks of the Road will receive the same treatment as other historical sites in Natchez, and any development on the property will go under review by the commission.

City planner Frankie Legaux said she expects the board of aldermen to preserve the site.

“It’s in the city, and it’s part of the city’s history,” Legaux said.

If Forks of the Road is put under the preview of the commission, all construction and development within 300 feet of the site will have to be approved by the city.

“It’s been extremely slow,” said Ser Seshsh ab Heter-CM Boxley, Friends of the Forks of the Road coordinator.

Boxley said he has been working for nearly 20 years to preserve the site with the advocate group.

The group works with the Historic Natchez Foundation and the Natchez National Historical Park.

The Forks of the Roads site meets three of the four criteria set by the Natchez Preservation Commission, Legaux said. At least one is needed to qualify.

Getting grants and funding become easier after a property has been marked as a historic landmark, Legaux said. The money can be used to add interpretive buildings, such as a museum.

The ability to interpret the site is an important aspect of this decision for Boxley.

“It’s important for a standpoint on African Americans on a national level,” Boxley said. “It explains the history of our people being separated from their family on the eastern seaboard.”

Boxley said he hopes to tell the story of the site in a way that demonstrates what the African slaves contributed to the country.

“It explains that other people other than Europeans contributed to the existence of Natchez,” Boxley said.

NNHP Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said she supports having Forks of the Road actively focus on telling the African story in America, and that diversity is important to interpreting the history of Natchez.

“That story of slavery is the story that Antebellum Natchez was built on,” Jenkins said.

The Y-shaped intersection currently leaves much to the imagination for visitors. A few plaques describing the slave market’s operations stand at the site. The site is second to New Orleans as the largest slave market in the country.

But the current state of the site is nothing compared to what Boxley and others hope it could be pending legislative approval to become a part of the Natchez National Historical Park.

Congress must create legislation that would allow the transfer of property from the City of Natchez and a consulting company that purchased a portion of the property to the National Park Service.

The Forks of the Road site is the only place in Natchez that has received international recognition by the United Nations because of its role in the international slave trade.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen will vote on the application during its regular monthly meeting, which begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the City Council Chambers at 115 S. Pearl St.