An unfortunate sign about Richard Wright
Historical markers are often wrong. James Loewen in “Lies Across America,” has written a whole book about them. Unfortunately, the Mississippi Writers Trail is planning to put one on the grounds of the Natchez public library. It says that Richard Wright was born in Roxie which is not even in Adams County.
Wright was born on the Rucker plantation now part of Natchez State Park. The sign talks about Wright’s education in Jackson. No mention is made of his family here other than to disparage them saying that he was “shuffled” around.
Wright’s childhood was miserable and horrifying, but blaming his family who tried to help him deal with racism and poverty is unfair. Wright lived with his mother’s people, the Wilsons, on Woodlawn Avenue where the fire he started opens his autobiography “Black Boy.” The Wilsons helped care for his chronically ill mother throughout her life as well as her two boys growing up.
Wright’s writing was significantly influenced by places in Adams County: the Wilson home, the Cranfield home of the Wrights where he lived for more than a year, and the area around the Rhythm Nightclub which later inspired one of his last works, “The Long Dream.’ Yet the marker says nothing about Natchez or why the trail marker is placed here. Instead it talks about Jackson. Erecting such a misleading marker will be an embarrassment to our city and the Writers Trail. Signs located on the Bluff and Woodlawn Avenue already contradict it by clearly stating that Wright was born near Natchez in Adams County.
So what to do with this unfortunate sign? Send it back! It is an insult to our city. Let them remake it or if they insist on posting this false story, find someplace else for it. If it were placed in Jackson, travelers might visit nearby Smith Robinson Jr. High School where Wright was valedictorian. That’s what the marker focuses on. It is now Jackson’s African American Museum.
If visitors drove to Roxie, they will probably drive on to Natchez and learn the truth at the Richard Wright exhibit in our African American Museum. However, placing this marker at the Natchez library, which was at another location in Wright’s time, is particularly inappropriate because during his life, Wright would not have been permitted access to use it.
This marker doesn’t mark anything. The marker-makers need to visit their sites and get public input before they create “lies across Mississippi.” Natchez must protect its history from false narratives being permanently memorialized here by a state agency. Telling the truth is Important.
David S. Dreyer is an Adams County resident.