We need to work to keep birthday spirit

Published 12:17 am Sunday, August 7, 2016

Somewhere between the Popsicle and the jump houses, my 3-year-old daughter’s tricentennial spirit kicked into gear.

Only her early bedtime forced us to leave the Natchez Tricentennial street party a bit early Wednesday.

She was only mildly disappointed that we missed the mass round of “Happy Birthday” sung to the city of her birth and her short life.

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As we walked toward the gate, she threw her hand in the air and said, “Happy Birthday.”

The simple gesture made me smile as we headed for the car, but it also reminded me that Natchez’s big problems are fixable if we all look at the world with a child-like enthusiasm and a sense of working together

Anna and I (wife Julie opted to stay out of the heat) did not leave before seeing some of the best aspects of Natchez on display at the street party.

What we witnessed was a positive sign about Natchez’s present and future.

Tricentennial plans initially were a little worrisome. Plans came out the gate with Walt Disney like proportions, but with what ultimately became a bit of a Walmart budget.

Grand plans of a party each day of the year sounded great at first, but after initial fundraising efforts stumbled and ultimately a series of squabbles over the city’s tourism management, a more modest, more focused tricentennial lineup shaped up.

Wednesday was the culmination of much hard work, sweat (lots of sweat as the heat was sweltering) and likely a few tears for those who planned the tricentennial.

The day was a fitting celebration indeed, starting where Natchez’s forefathers once lived — the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

Late in the afternoon, the celebration moved to the site where the French built Fort Rosalie. On the site, now controlled and managed by the National Park Service, the beginnings of what we might call “modern” Natchez began.

As we stood side-by-side at the ceremony, former Natchez Mayor Tony Byrne told me of something special that had occurred earlier in the day. When current Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell was presented with an award earlier in the day on behalf of the city, Grennell showed his true colors.

Rather than accepting the award personally, he invited the former mayors at the event to come up and accept the award.

His simple, but powerful gesture underscored the tricentennial spirit — celebrating our present with an eye on the importance of our past.

As Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond thanked the crowd for being patient through the years as the NPS worked through the various hurdles to obtain, then begin to develop the site, the crowd on hand underscored just how important that site is — and will become when fully developed for visitors.

Eventually the Fort Rosalie site will become another jewel in Natchez’s tourism crown, though perhaps money will need to be found to help stabilize the bluffs just below the site.

The most amazing thing about the street party that night — probably lost on the 3-year-old attached to my hand — was just how Natchez can, in fact, set aside our petty differences, come together as one community and have fun.

Walking around the Broadway Street party Wednesday evening, young and old, black and white, rich and poor were all enjoying one another and reveling in Natchez.

Natchez woefully needs more of what happened Wednesday night — a simple day of community and family fun.

Natchez has an amazingly cool vibe to it. It always has; but walking among friends and strangers Wednesday night, one has to wonder if we can work hard to keep the spirit of the tricentennial holding us together for years to come.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.