PHOTO: Courtesy Forksoftheroad.net
Story by John Mott Coffey, with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ
NATCHEZ, Miss.–For the 30 years it existed in the 1800s, Forks of the Road was where white dealers sold black slaves unloaded from riverboats docked at Natchez-Under-the-Hill and herded down St. Catherine Street to what was then the town’s outskirts, according to historical accounts.
The slaves were held in stockades before being nattily dressed and displayed for buyers to inspect.
The Natchez Board of Aldermen has designated city-owned property a landmark with hopes the former slave market can be developed by the federal government into a national historical site.
“The possibilities are so great if that is under the umbrella of the National Park Service,” said Alderman Tony Fields.
The city board on Tuesday adopted the Natchez Preservation Commission’s recommendation that the Forks of the Road lot on Liberty Road be declared a city landmark. This will help ensure the site doesn’t get blemished by further commercial development in the area while the park service makes plans for it, said city Planning Director Frankie Legaux.
From 1833 to 1863, the Forks was the South’s second-largest slave market, according to the state Department of Archives and History. When Union troops during the Civil War took control of Natchez in 1863 and freed slaves, hundreds of them took refuge at the market site.
The land designated a landmark Tuesday is on Liberty Road across from Custom Exteriors near St. Catherine Street. Markers telling the history of slavery are already there.
The landmark status was requested by the Natchez National Historical Park, the Historic Natchez Foundation and Friends of the Forks of the Road. Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said a proposal is pending in the U.S. Congress for the federal park service to acquire the Forks properties.
Another site between Concord Avenue and O’Ferrall Street near D’Evereux Drive could also be later deemed part of the Forks of the Road landmark, Legaux said.
Hopes are the area can be enhanced as a historic site commemorating what took place there.