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Have a seat at Concord Quarters’ table

Recent public protests in Natchez in response to shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and countless other Black people in the U.S. have become points of reflection for many of us.

Race is being discussed publicly and privately in ways that it has never been before. I would ask the question of those who believe in historic preservation, do you think this is a form of reparation for slavery and its sustained impacts, let us all reflect on what this moment means in the context of historic preservation in Natchez.

Please observe that in the past six years there have been significant efforts to publicly address the systemic silencing of black history in Natchez, including the hiring of Greg Iles to write the entire Natchez story for the Natchez Historic Tableaux.

The old tableaux were not resonating with our visitors. The formation of Miss-Lou Heritage Tours (Jeremy Houston), adding a free-standing slave dwelling to the fall pilgrimage to tell their stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked at Concord Quarters, bringing in Joseph McGill of the well-known Slave Dwelling Project for conversations and help in regard to preservation, Sharon Morgan, founder of ourblackancestory.com. The aforementioned is not exhaustive.

Through the many efforts mentioned here I would hope that we could sit at a table together and have conversations to reconcile and to repair the impacts of slavery and its manifestation of systemic racism in the present.

There are markers, and wayside display panels to interpret some significant history here in our city, there have been dedications of markers to honor the lives and contributions of African American men and women to Natchez. These are public efforts that reflect a desire to preserve and personify these significant contributions of African Americans to Natchez. These efforts are not only meaningful to local historic preservation, but are nationwide. Natchez and its historical prominence are here because slavery mattered.

If we want Black lives to matter as we are expressing daily, then the Black lives of our city’s past must also matter. The memorials and markers and display panels, street signs, parks where are they located in the city? Are they prominently and equally featured when we receive our guests? This is not a question about making long overdue changes, but whether our willingness and agency exist to repair over 200 years of damage to black residents and their ancestors in Natchez.

What do we want to remember and why? The campaign is an ongoing one for black equity, or from local economic opportunities associated with heritage tourism. We have made some small strides but neglected to shape up our community development discussions about what it means for Black lives to really matter to heritage tourism in Natchez.    

What can or will our schools tell us about the long history of inequity in education in Mississippi from slavery until present day? What might it mean for people to associate Richard Wright, Stevan Ridley, Elizabeth T Greenfield, with Natchez just as much as they do the antebellum mansions?

What might it mean for Natchez antebellum mansions to not be disconnected from the slave dwellings that made them matter, from the enslaved men and women who labored despite being policed in every facet of their lives? What can they tell us about how Black Americans are policed today?

If the slave dwellings do not matter as much as the big houses, that is an indication that the descendants of enslaved people don’t matter as much as the descendants of those who enslaved them? So many questions.

We make history in our communities every day. To know history is also to understand the responsibility of your contribution to it. Your thoughts and actions matter and equitably affect everyone else.

I would hope that we all could be participants for the greater good of our city. We all have choices. How do we want our community to move forward from this moment? Do we want to create a society that is conducive to the benefit of all its citizens?

I invite you all to join us at our table here at Concord Quarters for conversation. Date to be announced. Let us collaborate.

Deborah Cosey is the owner of Concord Quarters historic home in Natchez.