Locals celebrate freedom

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

NATCHEZ — Standing at the same site that was once a slave market, Natchez residents gathered at the Forks of the Road Saturday to commemorate the end of slavery.

As traditional African drumming mingled with the sound of passing traffic, Friends of the Forks of the Road Coordinator Ser Sesh Ab Heter-C.M. Boxely talked the audience through a visualization exercise that took the place of the libation ceremony, which normally marks the Juneteenth celebration.

“Visualize men in chains and strong women tied with ropes for miles along the beaches,” Boxley said to the audience. “Now visualize strangers waiting for them on the shore.”

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Boxley’s exercise took the audience through the Middle Passage to slave ports in the Caribbean and then to destinations in North America.

And while generations after the first slaves were born without freedom, the slaves never gave up their desire for freedom, Boxley said.

“Had the slaves not survived, our black behinds would not be here today,” he said.

The day’s ceremony also included a reenactment reading from a slave trader of the times and some people from the audience even spoke on their family’s ties to slavery.

Natchez Native Charles Wright, whose great-great grandfather and his two brothers were slaves, spoke about his ancestor’s quest to find freedom.

Wright said after the three men left their owners, one joined the Union Army while the other two were not heard from again.

“They were willing to do whatever they had to do for their freedom,” Wright said after the ceremony. “And (the event) gives what they did a purpose; we won’t forget them.”

Juneteenth festivities will continue today at the National Association for the Preservation of African American Culture Museum with the dedication of the Richard Right exhibit and the Finley Collecting of West African Art.

The event begins at 3 p.m. at the museum.