It’s time we honor our U.S. Colored Troops

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, April 8, 2021

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A little over eight months ago, we as a community stood on our Historic Bluff and made a proclamation of Unity in Natchez. The day was July 24 – Inauguration Day. A large part of that proclamation was the statement that we would work together to better tell our story, the whole story of the history of our “Shining City on a Hill.”  It is time we act on that pledge.

During the Civil War, 178,000 men served their country in the US Colored Troops. The vast majority of these patriots were former slaves, and they, like the heroes of so many American conflicts, paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Over 36,000 died.

Here in Natchez, over 3,000 men valiantly served in the 58th Regiment of the USCT. Their stories are inspiring, especially their connection to the Forks of the Road Slave Market, where many of them had formerly been imprisoned. In 1863 these troops were ordered to tear down Forks of the Road, utilizing salvaged materials, timbers that formerly contained them as human chattel, to construct Fort McPherson, a major fortification in North Natchez. Much of the earthwork done by these troops still exists on the southern boundary of the Natchez City Cemetery, in the area which was once the northern boundary of the fort.

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Just this week, on WTYJ Radio, we announced plans to finally pay homage to these soldiers by designing and erecting a prominent Monument to the US Colored Troops in our city’s Memorial Park. This will be a significant structure, preferably in bronze, and we would like for tablets to be included bearing the names of those who served. A committee is being appointed, to be chaired by Mr. Robert Pernell, a gentleman who served Natchez well as chairman of the Proud to Take a Stand Committee. Anyone who would like to be involved in this historic task is welcome to participate!

At a meeting of The Mayor’s Task Force on Ingenuity and Diversity in Tourism, we also announced plans to embark upon several other significant steps toward telling the whole history of Natchez: 1.) An exhibit to the USCT and Fort McPherson at the southern boundary of the City Cemetery. 2.) Identification and signage for previously unmarked historic sites in Natchez related to African American history and civil rights. 3.) Improvements to the Proud to Take a Stand Monument at the City Auditorium. 4.) Final conveyance of city-owned parcels to the National Park Service for the proposed “Forks of the Road Slave Market District”, in addition to seeking more Federal Funds for needed land acquisition.

I am excited about the progress we will soon be making in telling the Natchez Story. It is important that we do this together. It is OUR HISTORY after all, both the good and the bad – and we have been, and will continue to be, in this together.

Natchez – this is a historic opportunity to show the world just how a community can come together in significant ways. It’s truly remarkable how far we have come. And, working together, I can’t wait to see how much farther we can go… and grow!

Now is a time for building up, not tearing down. This monument will be a significant step forward for all of us.

As stated earlier, and as prominently stated on the bluff in July, it all boils down to Unity, the key word in two other important words: Community and Opportunity. And without Unity, we can have neither Community nor Opportunity. It’s our time. Natchez deserves more.

Dan M. Gibson is Mayor of Natchez.