Black history is Natchez history
Published 8:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2022
By JOSEPH A.C. SMITH
For the past several years, I’ve dived into the history of black people here in Natchez and I’ve got to tell you — it’s been incredibly fascinating!
Scholars say the ﬁrst African descendants arrived in Natchez between 1719 and 1720 — most enslaved and doomed to the draconian realities as servants on local cotton plantations. Some early African Natchezians were able to gain freedom through alliances with Native Americans as early as 1723. By 1801, census documents reported that more than 150 free people of color resided in Natchez.
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This means that here in Natchez, more than 300 years of history exists about its African descendants — a history that is both rich and storied.
Many locals know the story of Nellie Jackson but few have heard of Nelly Price, a free woman of color who boldly deﬁed social norms in the 1700s. Many have heard of the musical prowess of Bud Scott but few know of Natchez born Elizabeth Greenﬁeld Taylor, who is said to have been the most famous Black concert artist of her time. Or, of Marie Selika Williams, who was the ﬁrst African American to perform at the White House.
Then of course, there are the early Black physicians of Natchez — Dr. John Banks and Dr. Albert Dumas — who also founded the Bluff City Savings Bank, the only Black-owned bank in Natchez.
For the lovers of the more salacious sides of history, one could get lost in the countless stories of the interracial couples of St. Catherine Street or weigh in on the long debated topic of whether Confederate First Lady Varina Davis was of mixed race. (Look at her photos and decide for yourself.)
Nearly every occupation and ﬁeld of study that one could imagine has been effected by Black Natchezians, locally and in many cases nationally. As we enter Black History Month, I invite our local community to dive into this history and be inspired by it. Some of the history is painful but nonetheless true and therefore, will require the kind of compassionate listening and understanding that cultivates the healing that our local community and our nation desperately need.
Consider adding to your February do-list a visit to our Natchez Museum of African-American History & Culture or spending an afternoon exploring the Natchez Trails panels sprinkled throughout downtown. Both the public library and the Historic Natchez Foundation have collections of books and literature on Black History and, if you’re feeling adventurous, several local tour companies offer highly educational Black History tours.
The opportunities abound for learning about the rich history of Blacks in Natchez.
Perhaps after your exploration of this topic, you’ll come to the conclusion that I have. Look anywhere in Natchez, and you’ll see the genius of the slaves who built it.
Joseph A.C. Smith, M.Div., is founder of BlackNatchez.org.