Forks face lift to be unveiled Saturday

Published 12:45 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

NATCHEZ — For those who remember the Forks of the Road before it was touched by the hand of Ser Seshs Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley, an image on an unkempt property might come to mind.

Boxley has been researching and working on the Forks of the Road since the mid-90s and it will all culminated to the unveiling of four new interpretive signs at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

It all began as a beautification plan funded by private donations made by citizens. A total of $7,777 was raised for the project.

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This led to the Mississippi Department of Transportation clearing the lot.

“The whole right of way just looked ugly and overgrown from top to bottom,” Boxley said.

Trees were then planted and public works leveled the uneven portions of the lot.

A historical marker was placed, as was a bench that sits between two crepe myrtles, which Boxley admits to pruning himself.

But he is most appreciative of the new signs.

“The crowning moment was the installment of the four interpretive signs,” he said.

For years, Boxley said people have complained that there is not much to see at the site.

“This is a 500 percent increase in educational material for the public to consume in depth without a tour guide or a docent,” he said.

These new signs that are both pictorial and narrative allow a visitor to have a self-guided tour.

An outdoor exhibit was erected a few years ago, but people have said it makes the site look like a bus stop, Boxley said.

The new signs will clearly distinguish the site as a historical landmark.

“This addresses the hallow ground and the sacredness of the site,” Boxley said. “That’s what the beautification plan proposed and that’s what it achieved.”

The four signs depict several different things and each will be unveiled with the designer of the signs, Renee Shakespeare and other guests.

One sign lists the names of the 58th United States Colored Infantry Regiment, which was stationed in Natchez.

A re-enactor for the first colored infantry will assist Shakespeare.

Boxley said this sign is important to black genealogy and he encourages black citizens to study this sign.

“It’s an appeal to African American descendants in the community, they might read the names and discover that their great-great-great-great-grandfather was a freedom fighter during the Civil War,” he said.

Students of Ronald Davis, a professor from California State University, Northridge will help Shakespeare unveil the second sign.

The significance of the sign and the professor is that its an eyewitness account of dealings at the Forks of the Road in the 1850s, which Davis had researched and condensed.

His students are currently here doing research and will represent him as they unveil the sign.

The third sign is simply about the Forks of the Road.

“It’s a sign that speaks to the Forks of the Road as the United State’s second largest domestic slave trading hub of the Old Southwest,” Boxley said.

Shakespeare will be assisted in this unveiling by Clarence Randall Jr.

“At 90-some-years-old, he remembers seeing ex-slave persons in his lifetime and he’s a member of Friends of the Forks of the Road,” he said.

The fourth sign tells about Franklin and Armfield, which was the largest domestic enslavement trafficking firm in the United States.

It was stationed in Virginia but operated in Natchez.

Boxley hopes to have the co-coordinator of the Forks of the Road assist in unveiling.

In addition to the unveiling ceremony, there will be African dancers and drummers and also a blessing of the ground.

“As an African priest, I will personally bless the grounds and offer libation,” Boxley said. “(I will be) declaring those g rounds as sacred and commemorative to the (people) who built American and Natchez.”

Boxley himself will also make a special announcement.

“I will disclose why I chose the Forks of the Road versus any other historical site to carry out an advocacy planning campaign for equal historical commemoration in the Miss-Lou area,” he said.