Natchez is the cradle of Mississippi

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2009

Why would a city want a moniker that conjures up horrible images for some people? “Where the old South still lives” is a negative moniker for many. Your Sunday, Feb. 8 editorial says that.

Then why doesn’t Natchez adopt an alternative, such as “The cradle of Mississippi”?

That truly describes Natchez as it was and is — namely the home of the Natchez nation, the first European-African settlement at Fort Rosalie, the English trade depot at Natchez Under-the-Hill, the fulfillment of the Spanish town plan for Natchez-on-the-Bluff and the site of the first raising of the American flag on Ellicott’s Hill.

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Natchez is also the terminus of several great overland routes which opened Mississippi to American settlers, the first territorial capitol of Mississippi with its legislative building (Texada) still standing, the first state capital of Mississippi and the site of the writing of Mississippi’s first constitution at nearby Washington.

Natchez is the eventual capitol of the Cotton Kingdom with its antebellum homes and huge enslavement market, and it still remains the cultural and intellectual capitol of Mississippi with its music, literary, historical, archeological and thespian activities.

For a number of years, I avoided Natchez until I discovered its secret revealed in the next to the last paragraph of your editorial: “Perhaps in no other community in America do the histories of early black Americans and early white Americans blend so uniquely as in Natchez and Adams County.”

That paragraph deserves more development because you are on to something: The Forks of the Road stands within sight of the home of Mississippi’s foremost secessionist, Gen. John Quitman. The church of America’s first African-American member of Congress stands within sight of the early Spanish-era King’s Tavern.

The site of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians is but a short drive from the site of the French Fort Rosalie.

The modest home of Richard Wright’s grandparents stands but a short distance from the overwhelming grandeur of Stanton Hall. Where else can you see all these different architectural styles and era within a few blocks of each other?

No wonder the visitor needs help in making sense of Natchez. It is far more than “where the old South still lives,” which focuses on just one era of the centuries-old history of Natchez.

I am not sure that the history of Natchez should, or ever will, become blended and colorless, but it can be recognized for what it has always been — a shared history, and a new moniker is needed that focuses on that shared aspect as a beginning for all Mississippi history.

The cradle metaphor is significant. The hand that rocked the cradle of both white and black babies was often a black hand.

Mississippi was born and grew up here in the Old Natchez District, and much of that past still remains. Mississippi is still growing and growing up, but its present moniker implies that no growth has taken place here. Referring to Natchez as Mississippi’s cradle clearly implies that growth has occurred since its early days, not that slavery and Jim Crow days are still alive and well.

It may seem like and insignificant difference, but if you had told me that Natchez was “the cradle of Mississippi,” rather than a place where slavery and Jim Crow were still honored, I might have discovered the secret sooner and moved here 10 years earlier.

David S. DREYER is an Adams County resident.