The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser. A list of the most popular browsers can be found below.
Now Natchez finds itself in a similar situation.
In the town’s hotels, its restaurants and even the historic homes, citizens, who won’t be quoted for fear of backlash, said that tourism is down from previous years. The recession hurt the city, as did the loss of a paper mill and smaller industries.
“In times past, smaller Southern towns could count on trading on their Civil War histories to lure visitors and tourism dollars,” said Susan M. Glisson, executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. “But as the veneration of the war ebbs, as the demographics of the country change, that history no longer has the allure it once had.”
Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley, a Natchez African-American activist, said tourists don’t want the “whitewashed” version of the past. He has spent the past 20 years attempting to get leaders focused on the city’s rich African-American history, but it’s been a battle.
“What I do here isn’t about tourism, although tourism could be a benefit of it,” Boxley said. “I don’t do things in the interest to increase tourism attendance. The history of our ancestors who were enslaved cannot be trivialized into an economic, homogenized, sanitized image for tourism. These stories need to be told. But here in Natchez, it looks like white people did it all by themselves, and they aren’t ready to change.”
Boxley was instrumental in drawing attention to the Forks of the Road site, the nation’s second largest slave market during the 1800s, behind New Orleans. It has received international recognition by the United Nations because of its role in the international slave trade. Currently, a marker and kiosk along with a bench and a leaning cypress tree commemorate the site.
It could be so much more, though, Boxley said.
“There’s a preliminary report about tourism that says the Forks of the Road site is a great story,” he said. “But when you go there, there’s no experience. That’s needed, but we need the community behind it.”
That report by Berkley Young, a national tourism consulting group, recommended that the city leaders tap places where key moments in African-American history occurred. It also strongly suggested that the city choose a new convention and visitors’ bureau director from outside of Natchez. The most recent director left the position last month after 25 years.
Like many Southern towns, Natchez has long-unresolved racial problems that won’t be easy to change.
“As most people in the South will tell you, when you talk about race down here, it’s complicated,” Pritchartt said. “It’s not – pardon the expression – a black-and-white issue.”
Glisson said the William Winter Institute has received calls from some Natchez community leaders to facilitate discussions. But resistance — even at the cost of social and economic decline — has lingered.
“Natchez is a community that goes to great lengths to get business based on this Confederacy history,” Glisson said. “Racial issues need to be improved. We’ve had a couple of calls to help, but there hasn’t been follow-through on their end. Our process is, we don’t parachute in and save a town.”
Boxley said it will take a “revolution” to change Natchez and that, even with minorities in city government, little changes.
“We have people going around grinning and bearing it, both blacks and whites, like Old Man River,” he said. “Don’t say nothing, don’t do nothing, but they’re seeing that what used to work is dwindling because you have a smarter tourist. Those days of rolling out the hoop skirts are dying. They are gone with the wind.”