St. Catherine Street history project receives $5K grant

Published 11:14 am Monday, November 14, 2022

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NATCHEZ — Mississippi Humanities Council recently awarded a $5,000 grant to the staff of the Dr. John Bowman Banks Museum for a project that highlights the cultural history of St. Catherine Street.

The project is titled “St. Catherine Street, Natchez, MS: Yesteryear through Today.” It will use tours, photographs, oral history, and a brochure to share the rare and untold history of the people, buildings, culture, and businesses on the street from as far back as the 1930s, according to Project Director Thelma Newsome.

“Some people view St. Catherine as a mini version of ‘Black Wall Street’ of Tulsa, Okla., because of its thriving black businesses and cultural development in the past,” said Newsome. “The small business is what helped to carry the people along all these many years. They were especially vital in a time of heightened racism and discrimination.”

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Newsome, a lifelong resident of St. Catherine, said the street once boasted of thriving businesses that included barbershops, restaurants, grocery stores, laundromats, drycleaners, service stations, shoe repair shop, and beauty shops.

Although many of those businesses are gone, they had stories that need to be told about their existence and the impact they had on the community, Newsome said.

“This is a project whose time has come,” said Dora P. Hawkins, one of the organizers. “The Dr. John Bowman Banks Museum staff is elated to introduce St. Catherine Street, Natchez, Miss., to the world and to reintroduce the street to Natchez. In our research, we are finding so many interesting facts about this street and, it appears, we are only at the tip of what’s available.”

Organizers hope to launch the project in November or December. The tour experience will begin at Forks of the Road and end at the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum.

The project is a joint effort by the museum staff and other volunteers, all of whom are members of the St. Catherine Street Committee. In addition to Newsome and Hawkins, committee members include Jacqulyn Williams, Teresa Farley, Teresa Busby, Roscoe Barnes III, Robert Pernell, Mark LaFrancis, and Leon Hollins III.

“This is rewarding work for us,” said Hawkins. “We appreciate the tremendous assistance that Dr. Roscoe Barnes III, Mrs. Mimi Miller and the Natchez Historic Foundation have provided in our efforts. In addition, we could not accomplish our mission without the Mississippi Humanities Council’s approval of our grant request.”

Barnes, who serves as the cultural heritage tourism manager for Visit Natchez, said it has been an honor to work with Newsome, Hawkins, and the other committee members, and to see firsthand the fruit of their hard work.

“This is another important milestone for this community and the city of Natchez,” he said. “We’re all making history in more ways than one, and it’s all possible because of the significant contributions of a great committee and Mississippi Humanities Council.”

Barnes noted that he and Visit Natchez were also happy to assist the committee with the grant application.