Boxley: Forks of the Road grant a ‘gift of opportunity’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Natchez activist Ser Sheshshab Heter-C.M. Boxley said a grant recently awarded to the City of Natchez to preserve the historic Forks of the Road site is not a gift, but a &uot;gift of opportunity.&uot;

&uot;The idea is you have to put some money in the bank in order to get some money out of the bank,&uot; Boxley said. &uot;That’s business.&uot;

Last month, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded the city a $200,000 grant to help purchase the Forks of the Road property from private landowners.

City Planner David Preziosi said the city applied for $299,000 with no requirement for matching funds, but received only $200,000 with conditions that the city pay for appraisals, title work, surveys, legal fees and environmental certification.

Now the aldermen must decide whether they will pay for the in-kind work, which could amount to $20,000 for appraisals alone, or turn down the grant.

Boxley said what the aldermen decide will tell much about their commitment to preserving a &uot;balanced history&uot; of Natchez that includes both black and whites. &uot;That grant dropped something in the hands of Natchez that said ‘let’s see what Natchez is made of,&uot; he said.

Deborah Oakley, preservation specialist at Archives and History, said the state legislation that created the grant program leaves the requirement for local matches to the discretion of the archives and history board members.

While the city may have applied funding with no match, archives and history has the option to require it as a condition to an award, she said.

&uot;The board recognized the significance of (the project) … and thought that was the best way to address it,&uot; she said.

Oakley said the City of Natchez has one year to acquire the property before the grant reverts back to archives and history. She also emphasized the grant does not require that the match come from the City of Natchez; private donations are acceptable as well.

Earlier this month, the board of aldermen voted to open a bank account for private donations for the Forks of the Road project. The property, located at the intersection of St. Catherine Street and Liberty Road, is believed to be the site of one of the largest slave markets prior to the Civil War.