Boxley: We need heritage tourism now

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Requests to build a better black heritage tourism in Natchez &8212; and to do it quickly &8212; won support at the Tuesday meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

Black history researcher and activist Ser Sesh Ab Heter C.M. Boxley asked the board to adopt a policy &8220;to mitigate the neglect of the presence and contributions of African Americans in Natchez.&8221;

Boxley said tourists who come to Natchez see a view of Natchez history through the eyes of descendants of &8220;white Europeans,&8221; with little attention paid to contributions of its black African-descent forebears.

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Acknowledging some sites recently have been developed, Boxley said a more concentrated effort is appropriate now.

&8220;Why do we have to make this a step-by-step effort? Why can&8217;t we just do it together all at once?&8221;

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux Mathis said a city committee formed in the Planning Department already had begun exploring the idea Boxley presented.

&8220;We had a small meeting in May, a larger meeting in June,&8221; she said. The meeting scheduled for July did not occur because of the firing of the city planner.

She said the city &8220;needs strong planning and (someone) hired to do this kind of thing,&8221; such as a St. Catherine Street festival that could be modeled on the Farish Street festival in Jackson.

Walter Tipton, city tourism director, said Valerie Quinn is the heritage tourism contact in his office. Part of her job is promoting black history tourism sites.

&8220;We support the Juneteenth celebration and promote Forks of the Road,&8221; Tipton said. &8220;We are promoting heritage tourism and are as committed to African-American heritage as to any other heritage.&8221;

He said the exhibits at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center were created to show balance among the diverse population and history of Natchez.

Tipton said he would like to see more black history sites, as he has had success in bringing more groups to Natchez who are interested in visiting those sites.

Alderman Ricky Gray said a recent family reunion brought a friend of his home from Dallas. &8220;They went on a tour (of black history sites) &8230; and were so impressed they were going to get busloads of people to come back,&8221; he said.

Boxley said generations of black people have been &8220;denied our history.&8221;

He suggested brochures that present the history of slavery, blacks in the Civil War and 20th-century civil rights history.