Forks marks 176th anniversary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 27 marks the 176th anniversary of the city’s ordinance causing enslavement traders to relocate at Forks of the Road April 27, 1833.

A City of Natchez ordinance made it illegal for “Negro traders” to sell Negroes within the corporate limits of the city after April 27, 1833. Thereby, “Negro trading” was concentrated at the Forks of the Road beginning April 27, 1833.

Today, a mile or so east of Natchez’s city center is a land mass historically known as the “Forks of the Road.” These 19th century roads were named Washington Road, Old Courthouse Road and St. Catherine. Washington Road was actually the Natchez Trace extending into Natchez and terminating at the Forks.

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In 1834, eyewitness traveler, Joseph Holt Ingraham described the Forks market as follows: “a mile from Natchez we came to a cluster of rough wooden buildings, in the angle of two roads. “This is the slave market,” said my companion, pointing to a building in the rear.” He said they entered “through a wide gate into a narrow court-yard, partially enclosed by low buildings.”

Jim Barnett of Mississippi Department of Archives and History, in his 2003 nomination of the Forks for National Historical Landmark recognition wrote, “The historic intersection, with its familiar Y configuration, remains to mark the location of the once-flourishing slave markets.”

During the trafficking season at Forks of the Road markets ,“coffles” of enslaved people were walked from the upper old south Chesapeake Bay region, Kentucky and Tennessee to the Forks. Those shipped around on the Atlantic Ocean and down and up the Mississippi River highway routes were off loaded at Natchez Under-the-Hill wharfs and walked out to the Forks.

Tens of thousands of enslaved African descendants, who through their spiritual tradition and human motivation, managed to survive these driven-like-cattle passages of sorrow to the Forks.

Once there, they were stored securely in human stockades, holding pens and houses in and about the Forks.

Paths to dreams of status, wealth and empires by investing in “Negro stock” — buying Negroes to make profits, to buy more Negroes, to make more profits — was the capitalization engine driving southern heritage economies and success of the Forks of Road Negro markets. Enslaved persons at the Forks were not exhibited on auction blocks and struck down to the highest bidder, as was the case in the upper south.

Alexandria, Va., based Isaac Franklin and John Armfield Company and Associates were said to be America’s top kingpin enslavement dealers of their time. Franklin developed five plantations in the West Feliciana Parish of Louisiana on which the notorious Angola Prison now stands.

Come visit Natchez or while living here visit the historical Forks of the Road. The Forks will speak to you through interpretive signs Friends of the Forks of the Roads Society Inc., erected there and through a kiosk erected by the City of Natchez. You may even feel the ever present spirits of humans soul down the river in America’s domestic slave trade at the Forks.

In your mind’s eye or in person, leave the Forks. Follow the tread of investments in Negroes to extant and no longer existing antebellum homes, families, plantations of cotton and sugar bowls (football), gone with the wind hoop skirts and confederate uniforms around the maypole pageants, edifices, cities and “southern heritage,” that slavery produced.

Look at the people now labeled African Americans. Know their life, presence, humanity, art, music, spirituality, legacies, history, culture and deep-south community development contributions were rites of passage from their African land of origin to the Forks of the Road and other markets all the way back through the European slave forts’ doors of no return in Africa.

A banner has been erected at the Forks to mark the 176th anniversary.

Ser Sesh Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley is coordinator of the Friends of the Forks of the Roads Society Inc.