Ideas offered for African American focus

Published 11:42 pm Monday, June 4, 2007

NATCHEZ — Forks of the Road. Watkins Street Cemetery. Rhythm Night Club.

Those were just a few of the ideas for projects Natchez residents suggested at Monday’s meeting to discuss ideas that the African American Experience Fund might support.

The fund works with the National Park Service to support the 20 parks that interpret the African American experience.

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Ser Sesh Ab Heter C.M. Boxley asked Gerard Jolly, program director for the National Park Foundation, to do what he could to bring the privately owned part of the Forks of the Road into public hands.

“If there is a site that’s most crucial that tells the story not only of African Americans but European Americans it’s Forks of the Road,” Boxley said. “I ask you to put it high on your priority list to help purchase the site.”

Darrell White suggested more emphasis be put on developing an exhibit interpreting the area downtown used for Fort McPherson, a Union fort guarded by many African Americans in the 1860s.

“Hardly anything is ever said about Fort McPherson,” White said. “As newly emancipated people came into this area, they had military protection.”

Thelma White suggested the overgrown and historic Watkins Street Cemetery be a priority.

“When I grew up, that was the only cemetery most of us had,” White said. “Only a few of the more affluent could afford to be buried in the city cemetery. I call it the ‘other’ city cemetery.”

Jennifer Ogden said she would like to see some more done on the Rhythm Night Club fire.

“That fire changed the demographics of this community,” she said. It wiped out an entire generation of the best and brightest in this community.”

There was a lot in Natchez’ rich history from which to choose, Jolly said. It was a matter of setting priorities.

“You have enough to work on for decades or longer,” Jolly said. “The question is, what is it that can catch the eye and bring more support?”

Residents also voiced opinions on what should be included in a revised African American tourism brochure.

To make suggestions on the brochure, call Darrell White at 601-445-0728 or e-mail him at

To make suggestions on African American experience projects, contact Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins at 601-442-7049, extension 13, or e-mail her at