Forks of the Road: 2nd largest domestic slave market in the Deep South

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 12:35 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2022 at 3:07 PM CST
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NATCHEZ, Miss. (WLBT) - The city of Natchez was once the site of one of the largest slave trade markets in America.

Leaders admit it is an ugly past, but they are committed to telling this true story to fight against hatred and honor the lives of enslaved Africans who endured so many hardships.

At the Forks of the Road, African-Americans were sold from the 1830′s to 1863. More than 160 years later, it is now a landmark to remember those who survived, suffered, and died during this time.

“Right here, in front of me, you see an example of a chain. The shackles that were worn by the slaves who were sold right here at this particular location.”

Natchez Cultural Heritage Tourism Manager Rosco Barnes was emotional as he talked about the tens of thousands of men and women and children who were taken here against their will and purchased to work as slaves in homes and on plantations.

“When I touched it, I felt a chill. It took me back to that time in history. I could imagine the blood and their cries for freedom. This was an important part of our history,” said Barnes.

The depiction of slave manacles and chains cemented in the ground is part of the free-standing exhibit at the intersection of Liberty Road and D’Evereux Drive, which tells the story of the slave trade in Natchez to visitors and locals.

In fact, the site was the second largest domestic slave market in the Deep South.

“Yes, we were treated like animals. They would get us ready for the market. This is hard to imagine now, but I think one of the students said this morning over at the visitor center when we were talking about slavery, it still happens today in this parts of the world,” said Barnes.

“This area is a place of personal reflection,” said Visit Natchez Executive Director Devin Heath.

A block away, grass and weeds now cover the trail the enslaved Africans took to get to the slave market. It is a reminder of a long journey of pain and suffering they endured.

“This place that I’m standing on, it’s such an important aspect to our history here in Natchez. This is where thousands of slaves ended their journey as they were transported in shackles on foot across this country from as far away as Alexandria, Virginia, and other points and marched here to Natchez to be sold at the Forks of the Road. They had to cross over the Spanish Bayou and this bridge at the Forks of the Road to finally come to the end of this journey and the beginning of the next journey in slavery in Natchez.”

Natchez leaders say the site was the place to go to buy and sell slaves for at least 30 years until the arrival of the Union Army in July of 1863. They were ordered to tear down the slave pens at the Forks of the Road. They were joined in their efforts by the U. S. Colored Troops and many of them former slaves.

“Fortunately, when the U.S. Colored Troops came on board when the unions took over, the slaves were freed,” said Barnes.

“The troops tore those buildings down and used the lumber (that was used for the slave market) to build Barracks for Fort McPherson, so there is a lot of history involved,” said. Chairman of U.S. Colored Troops Monument project Robert Pernell.

This landmark will now be preserved for generations to come. The City of Natchez and Mayor Dan Gibson signed over the land last year to the National Park Service.

“On the first Juneteenth holiday, June 18, 2021, to be able to sign that document where we once and for all gave the sight over to the federal government, it was time. And this city that had been built on the backs of these enslaved Africans, it was time. A day of reckoning that we would properly dedicate this ground and then make sure that the federal government would have it for years to come as an important piece of the National Park System to tell this important story. In fact, I am told this is, that as of right now, that this is the only site in the national park system to tell this story,” Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said.

On top of that, the city is also kicking off The Natchez U.S. Colored Troops Monument Project to raise money to honor more than 3,000 soldiers who served and give them the recognition they deserve.

“If it weren’t for these men and women who suffered what they suffered and went through these hardships and fought for their freedom, I wouldn’t be here today. So, I’m forever grateful for what they’ve done,” said Heath.

“We have come a long way, but we still have quite a long way to go,” said Barnes.

The Forks of the Road historic site is free and open to visitors.

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