Mississippi city donates to National Park Service property where one of nation’s largest slave market sites stood

Published 6:26 am Sunday, June 20, 2021

The National Park Service on Friday accepted a Mississippi city’s donation of land at a site that was once one of the largest slave markets in the United States.

The federal agency eventually will develop exhibits that tell the history of Forks of the Road, where Black people were sold to work in slavery in Southern plantations from 1833 to 1863.

The site in Natchez has had a sign and a small monument made of concrete and shackles. Officials have been working since 2005 on proposals to create a detailed memorial.

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More than 100 people watched Friday as the city donated nearly 3 acres (1.2 hectares) to the park service — a ceremony that took place a day after President Joe Biden signed legislation to create a federal holiday for Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

“As we commemorate the celebration of liberty, Juneteenth, and we gather to remember the system of enslavement and the oppression the proceeded this freedom, we acknowledge the tragic story of what happened here at Forks of the Road and within the city of Natchez,” said Lance Hatten, deputy regional director for the National Park Service.

“We look forward to the day when people from all over the world will come to learn about the hard truths of Forks of the Road,” Hatten said. “When that truth is told and heard, the journey to healing and unity begins.”

A 2017 federal law authorized the Natchez National Historical Park to preserve, commemorate and interpret the 18.5-acre (7.5-hectare) Forks of the Road site, the National Park Service said in a news release. The agency acknowledged work by local residents who pushed for the project, including Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-CM Boxley and the members of Friends of the Forks of the Road Society, Inc.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi on Friday said he received the invitation months ago for Friday’s ceremony He praised the new Juneteenth holiday, which was created with bipartisan support, including all members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation.

“I stand here today a proud American,” Wicker said. “In spite of it all, I stand here today and emphatically and enthusiastically say that the United States of America is, and has been for centuries, the greatest experiment in democracy and freedom that’s ever been known around the globe. But it’s also been a work in progress.”

Wicker said Juneteenth celebrations “will serve as a history lesson that we’ve always been that work in progress, that the founding principles of the rule of law and all persons being created equal came hard and came slow and had to be fought for.”
Democratic state Rep. Robert Johnson Johnson said people have worked across political and racial lines to secure recognition and funding for the Forks of the Road historical site.

“This is a milestone today of where we’re headed, how we grow as a community,” Johnson said. “By understanding each other and knowing each other’s history and respecting each other’s history and telling two sides of a story. It’s important for us to understand each other.”