Historic Forks site takes on its own life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The unveiling and dedication of new interpretive signs at historic Forks of the Road enslavement market site is the last installment of a temporary Friends of the Forks of the Roads Society Inc. volunteer plan of beautification and adding dignity to the site.

FRSI beautification success was accomplished due to a number of factors beginning with the presentation of a plan submitted to and approved by Natchez Board of Aldermen in 2007.

The plan called for use of funds donated to the city by private citizens for the Forks of the Road when the city purchased the triangular shape historic property it now owns at the Forks.

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FRSI proposed to have trees planted on the hillside to set the site off from the church located in the Forks. Our plan included sprucing up the crape myrtle trees and getting the Mississippi Department of Transportation to clear the unsightly bushes and trees overgrown on its right of way.

We asked the city to level the uneven humps and rises and grade out the gravel dirt passageway on the lot.

A bench was added to allow visitors to have a place to sit for a while and reflect on the human tragedy and historical stories of the United States internal domestic slave trade the Forks landscape represents.

The highlight of FRSI beautification plan called for installment of four new educational interpretive signs that would address the common visitor’s complaint that “there was nothing to see” at the Forks of the Road. Also, the proclaimed image of the site “looking like a bus stop” would be overcome.

With our unveiling of the new interpretive signs and blessings of the grounds dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday, we anticipate that tour buses and cars will stop and people get out and read the truth.

After 13 years of advocacy planning and community action, during the ceremony, I will finally reveal why in 1995, of all the sites and events in Natchez, I chose the United States second largest domestic slave trading market landscape site as the driving engine for helping to achieve equal history commemoration and tourism democracy.

If Mayor Phillip West is successful in bringing the Forks development to the level of national significance it represents and can be, the Forks will take it’s proper place among the present national developments to have the United States confront its “slavery past” and move more toward human healing and racial reconciliation.

Such developments as the $100 million U.S. National Slavery Museum ($50 million already raised) former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder and now mayor of Richmond plan to build in Fredericksburg; the $100 million slavery museum within the Franklin and Armfield “slave” buying headquarters building in Alexandria, Va., developed by the Urban League of Northern Virginia; the mega million dollar African Burial Grounds in New York City to commemorate slavery there are just several examples.

The Forks of the Road was a major destination that America’s long distance enslavement dealer annually made a pilgrimage to on the over ground railroad from both Richmond and Alexandria with thousands of enslaved people to sell as human chattel.

The new Forks signs themes are as follows: the Forks of the Roads as a hub of United States domestic slave trade; eyewitness accounts of slave trading at the Forks of the Roads in the 1850s; Franklin and Armfield Company, kingpin enslavement dealers from Alexandria, Va.; ex-slaves as Union Army Civil War Freedom Fighters including the entire roster of the 58th United States Colored Infantry Regiment stationed in Natchez; and a listing of local Union Navy sailors of African descent.

Many African descendents may discover that their great, great, great grandfathers were freedom fighting soldiers and sailors for the United States during the Civil War. Nathan Wright Sr. and Richard Wilson of the 58th U. S. Colored Infantry were Richard Wright’s grandfathers, for example.

On behalf of the entire membership of FRSI, we also invite the Mississippi and Louisiana public and all visitors to join us for a blessing of the slave market site and grounds and an unveiling ceremony of four new educational interpretive signs just installed at the Forks of the Roads.

Ser Seshs AB HETER-CM BOXLEY is the director of the Forks of the Road society.