U.S. Colored Troops monument committee chooses design; aldermen agree to apply for grant to help pay for it

Published 2:25 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2022

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NATCHEZ — Leaders of the U.S. Colored Troops Monument Committee told the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen Tuesday morning the committee has chosen a design for the monument.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the committee held a public meeting at the Natchez Convention Center to gather community input on which of three designs members preferred, as well as introduce Mississippi native Jay Warren, who was chosen to create the monument. Residents were also able to share their opinions about preferred designs online at the USCT Monument website through Oct. 31.

Based on that public input, along with that of the committee, Concept A was selected, said Lance Harris, who chairs the USCT subcommittee on design, and Robert Pernell, chairman of the USCT Colored Troops Monument Committee.

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The monument will be located in a small portion of the northeast corner of the city’s bluff property, bordering Madison and Broadway streets.

Harris said the committee estimates the cost of the project at $1,090,232.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson then discussed plans to seek grant funding to pay for the monument, as well as the proposed Hiram Revels Plaza and other infrastructure within what he is calling the Forks to Freedom Corridor.

“I was encouraged by a meeting we had last Thursday that was organized by the Friends of the Riverfront, the Downtown Natchez Alliance and more specifically the group behind the plans to develop Revels Plaza,” Gibson said. “Currently known as the MLK Triangle, Revels Plaza is in the city’s master plan to be developed into a park, which will include a statue of the great Hiram Rhodes Revels.”

Revels, who was a pastor and earned many titles during his life, was a U.S. Senator and is noted as being the first African American to serve in either house of the U.S. Congress, taking his seat in 1870.

“Sen. Revels has never been properly recognized nationally and we want to correct that,” Gibson said.

“In the meeting we had on Thursday, it was brought to our attention by Neel-Schaffer (an engineering firm) that Revels Plaza qualifies under the definitions of the RAISE grant application process that is currently available to us from the U.S. Department of Transportation,” he said.

The RAISE grant, standing for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, would also be available for application to help pay for the U.S. Colored Troops monument.

“We looked to Yazoo City, which last year was successful in getting a $12 million RAISE grant for their depot and part of their downtown African American historic district that has been in a state of disrepair for a number of years,” Gibson said. “In looking at that grant application and comparing it to our needs in Natchez, it seems it is prime time for us to apply for a RAISE grant with the purpose of developing Revels Plaza and also for developing the USCT monument site.

“Also, we would like to throw out this goal, to develop a Ford to Freedom corridor that would incorporate everything in the vicinity of Devereux Drive, St. Catherine Street, where Forks of the Roads is to Revels Plaza and then down to the bluff and taking in the site of our Proud to Take a Stand Monument at our city auditorium,” he said.

The grant would also request funds for addressing the entrance to the city’s downtown area at the current flyover at U.S. 61, Devereux Drive and Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

“The flyover directs everyone away, and we have a business corridor that is suffering because of it. There is no signage to indicate that it is the entrance to that business corridor leading to downtown Natchez,” Gibson said. “We also have a beautiful green space just under the flyover where we can envision developing into a park-like setting where individuals could park. We could have charging stations and could possibly begin a foot trail or bike trail.”

Gibson proposed taking $30,000 of the $150,000 the city has budgeted for Hiram Revels Plaza and using it to hire the Neel-Schaffer firm to prepare the RAISE grant application. The aldermen approved that request.