Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Holding on to History in Natchez, Mississippi

One of the antebellum homes on the Pilgramage Tour. Check out the docent dressed up on the second floor!

Happy Spring, Dear Reader! Of course depending on where you are this may or may not mean a thing to you. Here things are warming up. Temperatures have been in the high seventies. Oh, I'm sorry... it's only 50 where you are? And raining? Oh, there was a blizzard three days ago for you in Boston? Oh, well... come on down south-- the weather's perfect here.

Ha! Well enough about the weather. Time to talk about the fine town of Natchez, Mississippi. It's right here on the Mississippi River, and all sorts of countries have laid claim to this land. That makes for fascinating architecture and history.

Antebellum homes are enormous homes that were built in the 1800's for wealthy merchants and businessmen who came from all over the country to make money off of the cotton industry. That industry (and the antebellum homes) at that point in time of course would not have been possible had it not been for the African slave trade. Natchez had the second busiest slave port in the nation.

One thing that I really appreciate about Natchez is that there is an enormous effort to preserve history. This month and next is the 75th Annual Natchez Pilgrimage, where people come from all over to see the antebellum homes. Also in Natchez is the Natchez Museum of African American History & Culture which is an invaluable resource to the community, and two of the antebellum homes, now owned by the National Park Service, that were built by African Americans who were free men before the Civil War.

I learned today that Natchez had the largest population of free African Americans prior to the Civil War. These folks had to be freed by their owners and though free, lacked most basic civil rights and had to carry their papers proving they were free at all times. One of these free African Americans was William Johnson, a barber, whose diary was found in 1951. As it turns out, barbers have always been the biggest fans of gossip. This diary was the most complete story of what life was like in the mid 1800s in Natchez.

My goodness, Dear Reader! There is so much to say about Natchez. So read on to find out about the other cool things I got to do here: like tour the synagogue, hear the Holy Family Gospel Choir, and eat really, really good food. My next stop is Gloster, Mississippi in Amite County. I'll be getting there tomorrow and I'll get to meet the kids at Gloster Elementary School. YAY!

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