5 Places to Learn About Black History Along the Natchez Trace

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Trace Blog Blog

5 Places to Learn About Black History Along the Natchez Trace

By Kristin Luna + Scott van Velsor

While the land populating the Natchez Trace dates thousands of years before the Civil War, there are plenty of sites along the parkway that tell the story of Black history in the American South from slavery to the civil rights movement through the present. Don’t drive the Natchez Trace without making these stops.

Jackson

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened in 2017 as a way to pay homage to and tell the stories of the Black populations who were enslaved, discriminated against, bullied and murdered. Part of the Two Mississippi Museums, the civil rights museum paints a sobering picture of Black strife in the Southern states through pictorial exhibits, facts, broadcast clips and sound effects from actual lynchings. While not for the faint of heart, the facts contained within this museum are an extremely important part of the nation’s past, so if you do just one thing in Jackson, tour the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Clinton

This Mississippi town of 15,000 residents was the site of one of the bloodiest acts of racial violence in the state’s history. In 1875 at the beginning of Reconstruction, Senator Charles Caldwell held a rally of more than 1,500 people, the majority of whom were freed men and their families, in anticipation of that fall’s election. The white mobs showed up, killing more than 50 people—the majority of whom were Black men—in the days that followed. This massacre helped spark the Mississippi Plan. Four months later, Sen. Caldwell was also assassinated. The city is recognizing this history by building an interpretative center at the site of the Clinton Riot.

Clinton has a self-guided walking tour available on a separate website that you can use via your phone while you explore the area.

Natchez

The Forks of the Road Slave Market, just outside of the city of Natchez, was by some measures one of the most prolific marketplaces for the internal slave trade in the United States. Thousands of enslaved Blacks were traded here from the north, along the Natchez Trace and, ultimately, to Southern plantations as the demand for labor increased and the prohibitions on the international trade of slaves came into effect in the early 1800s. It’s estimated that 1,000 human beings were bought and sold each year in this very spot.

Currently, the Forks of the Road is only marked by a sign and a concrete slab filled with manacles and chains, though the Natchez National Historical Park plans to expand the Forks of the Road into a full-on interpretative center in the future. While you’re in Natchez, be sure and also check out the African American Museum of History and Culture to continue expanding your knowledge of Black history in the South.

Tupelo

Tupelo’s history is rooted in music, and without the jazz and blues that emanated from Shake Rag’s restaurants, cafes and performance venue’s in the Roaring Twenties, North Mississippi’s music scene might look very different today. Tupelo’s historically Black community, Shake Rag was located alongside the railroad and most famously gave rise to a Tupelo-born musician by the name of Elvis Presley, who grew up next door and was heavily influenced by the neighborhood’s powerful sound.

In the 1960s, Shake Rag was demolished to make way for an urban renewal project, its residents relocated. Today, the shiny, new Tupelo Visitors Center sits on what was once the hallowed Shake Rag ground, paying tribute to the historical figures who shaped this neighborhood’s identity through interactive exhibits that are free and open to the public.

Nashville

Newly opened in downtown Nashville this winter, the 56,000-square-foot National Museum of African American Music shares the central role Black artists have played in shaping more than 50 genres of music, including spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, R&B and hip hop.

Kosciusko Welcome Center Landscaping

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Kosciusko Welcome Center Landscaping

The landscape makeover of the Kosciusko Welcome Center is more than just a new pretty face. The renovation of the gardens surrounding the center helps to celebrate the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Mississippi.

The Natchez Trace Parkway was pleased to partner with the Natchez Trace Parkway Association and the City of Kosciusko to revamp the Welcome Center’s garden areas. The project was a team effort that included botanical research, special funding, and plain old hard work,” said Parkway Superintendent Mary Risser.

Some of the Welcome Center’s original plants, including American beauty berries and red buckeye, are native species that were preserved during the renovation.  Non-native plants were removed and replaced with native species. Oakleaf hydrangea, star anise, native yellow and honeysuckle azalea, and dwarf fetterbush were planted. Other native species will be added as they become available. The new landscaping serves several purposes. Not only are the plants attractive, but they also provide natural food and habitat for native wildlife and showcase Mississippi’s natural diversity.

“The Welcome Center has been refreshed, and the new plants help to preserve the traditional landscape. It helps us feel even more a part of the Parkway,” said the City of Kosciusko’s Director of Tourism Donna Holdiness.

The Welcome Center has a unique relationship with the Natchez Trace Parkway (Parkway). The land is federal government property and part of the Parkway. The building, upkeep and services are provided by the City of Kosciusko (City). Together, the Parkway and the City provide information and a break from traveling visitors, much like the naturally landscaped historic stands of the Old Trace.

The Kosciusko Welcome Center is located at milepost 160 on the Parkway, at Kosciusko, Mississippi.  The Parkway Visitor Center is located at milepost 266 near Tupelo, Mississippi. For additional information, please call 1-800-305-7417.

America’s federal lands and waters are living classrooms. Make learning come alive by participating in Every Kid in Park. All current 4th graders and their families can visit national parks, monuments, seashores and more for free. Learn more at www.everykidinapark.gov.

Bike Your Park Day | The Natchez Trace

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Trace Blog Blog

Bike Your Park Day | The Natchez Trace

Biking Natchez Trace

Winding 444 miles through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, the Natchez Trace Parkway provides an exceptionally scenic roadway for visitors and cyclists alike. This designated bicycle route from Natchez to Nashville has been declared a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road. Riders can relax and enjoy nature’s beauty, unspoiled by commercial signage or stop lights. If historic stops and picturesque vistas at every turn sounds up your alley, hop on two wheels and join us on September 30, 2017 for the second annual Bike Your Park Day!

Bike Your Park Day was created to encourage and promote bicycling in parks and public lands (September 30 is also National Public Lands Day). The idea is to inspire people across the country to discover nearby parks and public lands by bicycle.

Bicycling is a healthy, sustainable way to travel — this annual adventure is not only a great reminder of that, but also a fun, easy way to hit the outdoors with family and friends on the Trace. Plus, this national event is for all ages and abilities!

HOW TO PARTICIPATE:

Register here for Bike Your Park Day on the Natchez Trace in Ridgeland, MS. This is a free, come and go as you please event. Parking and sign-in will be at Madison Landing beside Old Trace Park.

Many parks will offer activities and volunteer opportunities. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, please fill out this form.

There’s no denying the Parkway is one of America’s favorite bicycle-friendly scenic byways. Bike Your Park Day 2017 will be the ultimate opportunity to experience all it has to offer. (Fingers crossed the fall foliage will be starting to show!)

Biking Natchez Trace Fall

SEE ALSO: 10 Reasons the Trace is an Exceptional Bike Route

Join usAdventure Cycling Association, and the National Park Service as we celebrate having the Natchez Trace in our backyard. Come discover your nation’s parks and public lands on the same day this September, and all year round!

PLAN YOUR TRACE TRIP

Take a look at these bicycling tips and safety efforts. For more resources to plan your trip anytime of the year, download your free Visitors Guide. You can also see brochures and maps here.

Follow The Natchez Trace on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to check out photos and share your travel adventures with us! #TheNatchezTrace #BikeYourPark #FindYourPark