Goal of presentation is historic truth

Published 1:07 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2021

By Kathleen Bond

Why should we invest our time in learning about the past? Is it to understand our own identity? Is it to challenge ourselves to stay mentally active through continuing education? Is it to learn something about our world and our neighbors? Is it to build unity in our community?

Or do we seek out something that is entertaining or allows an escape from our daily lives? There is a place for all of these – but it is important to be able to discern fact from fiction, substance from fluff.

Scripture says that it is a foolish man who builds his house on sand; the wise man builds his house on rock, so that it can withstand the rain and the floods and the winds. The rock here is historical truth – the whole truth. The sand is any comfortable illusion that some of us might want to cling to so we can avoid looking at or dealing with a difficult truth.

The citizens of Natchez – and the visitors to our fair city – are blessed with an array of institutions that provide continuing education, including many opportunities that are free or low-cost. The Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College is one. Natchez National Historical Park is another.

The National Park Service presents interpretation at its sites that is based on the best scholarship that is available. To provide context for the historic sites that comprise Natchez National Historical Park (Melrose, the William Johnson House, Fort Rosalie, Forks of the Road), our park has entered into a new partnership with Copiah-Lincoln Community College to bring current scholarship to the annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration – during the February conference and also at events throughout the year.

The first of those events will feature Dr. Joshua D. Rothman, chairman of the History Department at the University of Alabama, who will be discussing his new book, The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America.

Our country’s brutal system of slave trading stole the labor and the most basic of freedoms from millions of people of African descent while subjecting them to physical abuse, humiliation, rape, and murder. Slave traders orchestrated and profited from the kidnapping of these people in the East and the Upper South and funneling them in chains over land and water into the Deep South – to Natchez and New Orleans – for resale.

Natchez figures prominently in Dr. Rothman’s book – and not in a way that would inspire any civic pride today. The wealth that built the architectural splendor lining our quaint streets was built on that heinous system of human trafficking. Just as the signs of that great privilege endure, so too the effects of the centuries of degradation inflicted upon the descendants of the victims of the trade. The Forks of the Road site is dedicated to telling their story, including the resilience that enabled them to endure and resist and create their own communities.

I invite and challenge you to come hear Dr. Rothman’s presentation in the Tom Reed Academic Building at the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23. The event will also be accessible via Facebook Live.

Kathleen Bond is the superintendent of Natchez National Historical Park.