Mississippi man donates life’s research about one of South’s largest slave markets, U.S. Colored Troops
Published 8:52 am Saturday, December 10, 2022
It took more than a few seconds for Ser Seshs Ab Heter-CM Boxley to sign his name, officially deeding his life’s work and research pertaining to Forks of the Road and U.S. Colored Troops to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History on Friday.
This was not out of hesitation. The name is so long that it just barely fits on the line. Boxley wrote his full name carefully and distinctly.
Boxley said he is elated to give his work to MDAH so that it is preserved for future generations to view and use for their own research. He couldn’t contain his emotions speaking about it.
“No one knows what it means to me to have something happen to my stuff, that it’s not going to be thrown away,” he said.
Boxley’s donation includes 20 bins of research papers and some in freezer storage to prevent them from deterioration. For 28 years, Boxley has been on a quest to equalize Natchez’s history. He has compiled his pages since before he returned to Natchez, his native city, in 1995 after living in California and world travels, he said.
His studies led him to parts of West Africa, particularly Ghana the Cape Coast Castle, which was one of approximately 40 forts that held Africans who had been enslaved.
Formerly Clifford Boxley, he now goes by his African name, honoring this heritage.
Boxley said he had many opportunities to sell his research, which was something he never did.
“I did a divination on making money off of the Forks of the Road and the answer was very clear — no. You never see me out there as a tour guide trying to collect a fee. People have made a few donations and what have you, but essentially my commitment was to the ancestors. … I’m not getting anything. I stand for something. You couldn’t pay me to do this.”
American Conservation Experience cultural resource interns Lucy Oster and Gabriel McFarland surveyed, treated and inventoried Boxley’s papers before they are turned over to MDAH to become a part of the state archives, accessible to all except those who wish to make a profit from them.
“I gave her my footprint around the country,” Boxley said, pointing to McFarland. “From Africa and now that I’ve been here (in Natchez) 28 years. She knows more about me than I know about me.”
“Not quite,” McFarland said.
Handling Ser Boxley’s collection exposed McFarland to the challenges and rewards of modem collection creation, McFarland said.
“My time working with American Conservation Experience, Natchez National Historical Park, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History completely transformed my understanding of public history and approaches in archival science. Preserving Ser Boxley’s legacy and the stories he carries with him honors a tradition of Black American, community-based memory work that has been historically undervalued by repositories. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this redress.”
Laura Heller, an archivist at MDAH, came to collect and sign a deed of trust with Boxley at the Natchez National Historical Park’s office Friday morning.
“My main role is coming to donors and getting some of their papers for the Department of Archives and History, specifically papers, photographs and audio-visual material for research collections. Those items can also be used in exhibits at the two Mississippi museums and also loaned out to other museums—like the National African American History Heritage and Culture Museum borrowed a few things from our collections recently for a reconstruction era exhibit, which was pretty cool.”
Heller said it would be up to the museum’s division to determine what if any of Boxley’s collection might be exhibited. It may also be used for updating current exhibits for accuracy.
Boxley credited Kathleen Bond, Natchez National Parks Superintendent, for spearheading his donation into action. NPS has acted “as the mediator” to get Boxley’s work to MDAH, Heller said.
Scholars and researchers will be able to access the collection at the state archives in Jackson to learn more about Boxley and his ineffable contributions to Mississippi public history, Bond said.
“We’re grateful that the collection was recognized by the state as worthy of preservation for the important stories they will help scholars to tell for years to come, and for their significance in documenting how change is being effected regarding the ‘Natchez story,”‘ Bond said.