February may be the official Black History Month, but in Natchez, the rich heritage of the city’s African-American residents past and present is celebrated all year round.
1. Bontura: was built for free black Robert Smith in 1851. Smith operated a horse carriage business in pre-Civil War Natchez and also was sexton at First Presbyterian Church.
2. Natchez Bluff Park: Located along Broadway, the Natchez Bluff Park holds markers commemorating important black history. One tells of Richard Wright, the famous author who was born near Natchez in 1908 and as a young child lived some of the time with grandparents at a small house in the northern part of town. Wright died in France in 1960. Another marker lists the more than 200 victims of one of the nation’s most horrible fires, which took place at the Rhythm Night Club on St. Catherine Street in 1940.
3. NAPAC Museum: 301 Main St., is operated by the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture. Exhibits and programs focus on life of the African-American in Natchez and the South. The museum is located in an old post office building, constructed in 1905 and enlarged in later years. The building occupies the site of diarist William Johnson’s barber shop.
4. William Johnson House: 210 State St., today is part of the Natchez National Historical Park and is open to the public. Check at the Visitor Reception Center for times. The house museum showcases the important diary left by Johnson, a barber, and to illustrate lifestyles of the free black population in Natchez in pre-Civil War years.
5. Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church: The church was built in 1858 as the Second Presbyterian Church but sold in 1866 to the AME church, whose minister, Hiram Revels, became the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Congress. The church is at 15 St. Catherine St.
6. Rose Hill Baptist Church: The church at 607 1/2 Madison St. is home to the state’s oldest black Baptist congregation. Both Rose Hill and First Baptist Church of Natchez trace their lineage as congregations to the old Wall Street Baptist Church, which no longer stands. The brick church dates to 1908, built after an earlier structure burned.
7. Forks of the Road:The site of the second largest slave market in the Deep South during the early 1800s. No remnant of the market remains, but a historical marker denotes the place at St. Catherine Street and Liberty Road, and an attractive exhibit tells some of the history of the notorious market and the people who were brought there to be sold to plantation and other property owners.
8. John Banks House: At 9 St. Catherine St., the John Banks House was home to the first African-American physician to practice medicine in Natchez. Mississippi granted Banks his license in 1885. He built his residence soon after that. A famous visitor to the Banks residence was Booker T. Washington, who was an overnight guest of the Banks family when he came to deliver a lecture.
9. Dunleith: With its distinctive peristyle architecture, Dunleith is one of the most photographed of the famous Natchez pre-Civil War mansions. The grand structure holds the fascinating story of an African-American boy who grew to be one of the most famous black men to emerge in the post-war era. He was John Roy Lynch, born in 1847 brought to Dunleith as a young man to work as a house slave and freed in 1863. At 21, Lynch became the first African American to hold public office in Mississippi. He went on to become a member of the U.S. Congress and had a continuing distinguished career, culminating in his appointment as paymaster of the U.S. Army from 1898 to 1908.
10. Frogmore Plantation:11054 Highway 84, Frogmore, La. Guided tour that relates thoroughly the African American rural heritage from 1700s – 1960s, including: food, clothing, work ethics, relationships, emancipation flaws, education drawbacks, sharecropping joys and hardships. Nineteen historical buildings on site.