NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) - In the early to mid-19th century, where Liberty Road meets St. Catherine Street, one can only imagine the cries of lament and terror that reverberated throughout the area.
On Wednesday, an opposite feeling - one of joyous celebration - was felt at the same location.
The historic brick bridge at the Forks of the Road site was transferred from Chartre Companies to the City of Natchez.
The lot where the bridge sits, which boasts approximately two acres, was the last piece of road slaves would have crossed before entering Forks of the Road slave market - a site notoriously known as the second largest slave trade market in the Deep South.
Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said Natchez obtaining this land has immense historical significance.
“Today is a day of hope, because we can celebrate how the decedents of the survivors of this horrible system of human trafficking that took place here have gone on to build the fabric of this city and the nation.
“This was a location made sacred by the unimaginable sufferings of the people in the dehumanizing system that treated them as livestock,” Jenkins said. “They were ripped from their families and bought, sold and abused at will.”
The Forks of the Road slave market, by one historian’s account, probably looked like “a sprawling prison camp” where slaves would be haggled over and sold to cotton plantation owners who came from across the South.
The Mississippi River made for easy transport of slaves from the declining tobacco plantations near the Chesapeake Bay.
At its peak from about 1830 to 1863, up to 500 slaves could be found at the market on any given day. It’s thought to be the second largest slave market in the South, the biggest one in New Orleans. Trade at the Forks of the Road ended only with the Civil War.
The Forks of the Road was unique because slaves weren’t auctioned, but bargained over by buyers and sellers, historians said. The site was already a traditional market that straddled the city limits when it was bought to move slaves
Shawn Benge, deputy regional director of the National Park Service Southeast Region, said its important sites like Forks of the Road are preserved, because they commemorate American history - both the good and the bad.
“Natchez is about history; history that has helped shape the nation,” Benge said. “And today we are closing the gap, and telling the complete story.”
Officials hope the land will become part of the Natchez National Historical Park. However, Congress must pass legislation before it can own the land. Until that time, the donated land will belong to the City of Natchez.
In the meantime, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he, along with city officials, will work to preserve Forks of the Road and celebrate its significance.
“This is something we want to keep expanding as much as we can,” Brown said. “The mission we have is to do what we need to do to embrace the full history of our community.”
Information from: The Natchez Democrat, https://www.natchezdemocrat.com/
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