‘It’s part of our story; It should be told’ Former alderwomen honored for their part in NPS ownership of Forks of the Road

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2022

NATCHEZ — In honor of Women’s History Month, two Natchez women are being presented with gifts commemorating their support and efforts to gift land what was historically one of the largest slave markets in the country at Forks of the Road to the National Parks Service for it to become a national park site.

On Thursday, Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley, coordinator of the Friends of the Forks of the Road Society, praised former Natchez alderwomen Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Sue Stedman who helped bring the Forks of the Road slave market land “from forgotten to a National Park Service Park,” he said.

He presented Mathis with a piece of artwork at the Natchez Visitor Center courtyard on Thursday, which features several African men linked together by their arms. It represents “ujima,” meaning “collective work and responsibility” and symbolizes the unity of the African American people working together, Boxley said.

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He will later be presenting former Alderwoman Sue Stedman, who could not attend Thursday due to a conflict, with the first-ever commemorative Forks of the Road T-shirt.

Boxley says 300 of the shirts have been made and the rest would not be dispersed until “Julyteenth,” the anniversary of July 13, 1863, when enslaved people in Natchez first saw freedom from the emancipation proclamation as the Union army occupied Natchez.

“Instead of presenting them with plagues and paper certificates, the awards will be the kind that are useful,” Boxley said.

He added Thursday’s presentation would jumpstart other celebrations recognizing “hundreds of people locally, regionally and nationally who over a period of 26 years were an active part” of helping him achieve his goal of making Forks of the Road a “history equalizer” in the city.

“For a long time, Natchez’s history has been told in such a way that it made it look like whites did everything by themselves,” he said. Boxley worked for many years to change that.

He thanked Mathis “for her relentless and undying, consistent support over the years of my Forks of the Road effort.”

Boxley said Stedman, as an alderwoman, helped finalize the City of Natchez’s first purchase of land at the site, which would be held for the city to later transfer to NPS.

Stedman said there had been a stall in the land acquisition and she did little else other than help the city acquire the first piece to get the project started.

“It’s part of our story. It should be told,” she said. “It’s time. I’m thrilled that NPS is taking a hand in it and I hope they will be successful in acquiring the necessary funds to do whatever needs to be done.”

“This entire board was for this project,” Mathis added. “We’ve done everything we could to get this property.”

The City of Natchez’s acquisition of land at Forks of the Road would later allow the city to donate it to the National Park Service in 2021 for future preservation and development.