Thank you, Ser Boxley, for Forks of the Road

Published 8:25 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2020

On Monday night, Congress approved funding for land acquisition for Forks of the Road.

Forks of the Road, located in the area of St. Catherine Street at the Liberty Road intersection, was once the site of the second largest slave market in the Deep South.

Thousands of lives were bought and sold there. Human beings. Many of them had suffered through a horrible journey from the east coast to the Natchez Trace and down it to Natchez. Many did not survive. Those who did became someone else’s property.

The funding for this effort is tied to the package of legislation offering COVID-19 relief. President Trump was expected to sign the legislation into law quickly, but his displeasure with the lack of funds for actual relief for COVID in the legislation may stall things for a bit.

Nonetheless, it seems money for the purchase of land needed to develop the area and make it a part of the Natchez National Historic Park is forthcoming.

It is a significant step for all of Natchez who are interested in telling the entire story of our history — something that’s long overdue.

We have Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-CM Boxley to thank for it.

Many deserve credit for making this happen. However, the lion’s share of that credit goes to Boxley, a Natchez native, who lived in San Francisco for 35 years until returning in the spring of 1995. At that time, he planned to store some of his belongings here before moving to Africa to live, Boxley wrote in a Top of the Morning in The Democrat on Nov. 19.

While looking for a site he thought appropriate to hold the city’s first Juneteenth celebration that year, Boxley read about “The Fork of the Road” site in a book called “The Black Experience in Natchez 1720 to 1880.”

“As head of the first Natchez Juneteenth Ancestral Libation Committee, I chose the site where human commodity trafficker John D. James (now owned by the City of Natchez and being donated to the National Park Service) operated his chattel slavery selling market,” Boxley wrote.

Since that time, Boxley has fueled the effort to preserve the site and honor the memories of the human beings who were treated as much less than human and recognize their contributions to Natchez and its history.

Bill Justice, former superintendent of the Natchez National Historic Park who recently retired as superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, said, “Without Boxley, this never would have happened.”

Justice said others, including former Natchez National Historic Park Superintendents Bob Dodson and Keith Whisenant, deserve recognition, as does current Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond.

But it’s Boxley’s passion that will make this new 18-acre site part of Natchez National Historic Park and will at last tell the story of the African Americans of Natchez.

Ser Boxley, because of your work, surely your ancestors are resting easier today. Natchez thanks you for your dogged determination on behalf of all of us.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You may reach her at 601-445-3627 or by email at jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.com. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.