How can Natchez move forward and condone this targeted injustice?

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, June 30, 2024

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On June 16, 2021, the United States Congress passed legislation to make June 19 a Federal Holiday to commemorate the arrival of freedom for enslaved people across the country.

On the evening of June 19, 2024, Melrose, a Natchez National Historical Park, honored those enslaved by hosting an event that spanned their grounds with 700 luminary lights.

According to an article in the June 21, 2024, edition of The Natchez Democrat, “The event concluded with an impromptu prayer circle led by Mayor Dan Gibson, who remarked on the injustices in Natchez’s history and paid honor to the enslaved men and women who built Natchez.”

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In April 2023, two individuals opened their doors to the community in downtown Natchez: a new lounge called Truth Lounge. Having a vision to renovate one of Franklin Street’s delipidated buildings, they invested their private monies to transform their 719 ½ Franklin Street location into a modern and sophisticated establishment for Natchez to enjoy.

Having gone through all of the proper requirements to establish a business at that location, a business license was issued for them to operate their new business. I watched as that property was transformed and hoped it would stimulate other young visionaries to refurbish additional properties on the north side of Franklin Street between Rankin and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

As a fairly new downtown homeowner, coming to Natchez in the Spring of 2022, I spent over a year and a half re-modeling our home in the Historic District of downtown. After meeting with the Historical Society, Natchez City Code Enforcement, and the Planning Commission, I know the investment and perseverance it takes to follow the rules and regulations to achieve your dreams. Coming from the Salt Lake City area to the South has been an eye-opener, to say the least.

I fell in love with the architecture, horticulture, history, and the warm, welcoming people that reside in Natchez. Also, coming from an area with an active nightlife was an adjustment. Walking my dogs from our State Street home through the Main and Franklin Street areas is my nightly ritual. To my frustration, downtown Natchez (except for a few excellent restaurants) streets were pretty well rolled up by 7 p.m. I wondered what there was to do at nighttime for not only residents of the city but also the thousands of visitors that come to this beautiful city to explore and spend their money with local businesses.

I was, therefore, excited to see what was happening with Rickey and David’s property. I visited with them frequently on my walks while they were under construction. I could also envision what they saw and hoped for more development on that block. I could see small, intimate restaurants, a Mom-and-Pop grocery store with items that tourists needed, and perhaps a gallon of milk for people like myself who didn’t want to spend an hour going to a large grocery store or even an ice cream parlor or donut shop.

As the months have passed, I have been frustrated by all of the negative front-page articles in The Natchez Democrat regarding the problems the Truth Lounge has experienced since opening.

They have been closed by the mayor’s order and reopened by Judge Blackwell’s order, where they were allowed to continue to operate. Then, after a gunfire incident on the corner of Martin Luther King and Main (nearly a block and a half away), they were required to go before the Planning Commission and were closed again.

An appeal was made for a public hearing to be heard by the Board of Alderman. During the hearing on June 18, 2024, 10 residents of Natchez were allowed to express their opinions on the future of Truth Lounge. Nine of the ten citizens asked the Board of Alderman to allow the Truth Lounge to re-open, but only one wanted it closed.

The board voted 2-3 to revoke Truth Lounge’s license. The Mayor and the Board of Aldermen are all elected officials — elected by the citizens they represent. It does not seem to me that the majority of the Board is listening to those who put them in office.

An injustice has occurred, not only to these two gentlemen (and they are gentlemen) but to the citizens of Natchez.

How can we move forward as a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming community if we allow this targeted action to occur even within our downtown’s designated “Entertainment District?”

Again, I return to the Mayor’s comments from the June 19 event at Melrose about the injustices in Natchez’s history and recognize the injustices that are occurring even today.

Let’s not stand for the ugliness of history repeating itself in 2024. Let us be a community that encourages growth and prosperity as we all make Natchez a better place to work and live.

Bret Hines is a Natchez resident.