PROCEEDING THEIR JOURNEY: Students Create Enslaved American Experience in Forks of the Road – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper
NATCHEZ – With only a few signs in existence to commemorate the tragic events that took place at Forks of the Road in Natchez, junior and senior level architecture and interior design students at the University of Texas at San Antonio have helped people realize that the site is a far cry from reaching its full potential.
The site was once home to one of the country’s largest slave trading markets between 1833 and 1863. During this time, families were divided and people were sold to lives of hard labor.
The students spent about three months on a group project mapping and visualizing the type of memorial and information center the site deserves.
On Wednesday, they made a site visit to Natchez and presented their work at the Visitor’s Center. Forks of the Road, which was recently designated a National Park Service site, has been seriously under-recognized, they said.
“We spent an entire month having conversations, researching Natchez, Mississippi and the site itself, talking about American slavery and how it affects us today.” Joshua Forney said as he presented his band’s design on Wednesday. “Specifically, we learned that Forks of the Road was such an important slave market site. It was a large part of the south and provided a huge economic boom. … If you were in the slave trade in the pre-war south, you had to go through Natchez, Mississippi. And yet, none of them had heard of Forks of the Road until we were entrusted with the project.
Natchez National Historic Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond said the ideas presented were of unlimited size and budget, allowing students to come up with a design that was beyond their imagination.
Bond said that while the designs may never be used in their entirety, they could help developers recognize what the site has the potential to be as the park department begins the process of acquiring more. of land at the fork of the road from private owners.
The students developed their designs for a memorial and interpretive center under the guidance of Professor Diane Hays, FAIA, and teams of globally recognized architects, Bond said. They were divided into teams and together designed buildings, interior spaces and landscapes for Forks of the Road to honor the trafficked slaves at the market.
They worked directly with staff at Natchez National Historic Park to use architectural strategies to reflect the emotionally powerful themes of dislocation, oppression, erasure and freedom in their designs, Bond said.
Forney and her group partner Sarah Dawson did this by designing oddly shaped underground tunnels that visitors can walk through, believed to create a sense of smallness, discomfort and confinement that enslaved people would have felt.
Destiney Bazan said that she designed her center in such a way that you feel like “your world is crumbling upon you” as you journey through the enslaved person’s journey. Bursts of exterior light shine in places to symbolize rays of hope.
“We chose the materials of concrete and steel because they are so heavy and honest and it’s not pretty because the story isn’t pretty,” Bazan said.
Sierra Laird said that as an African American it touched her emotionally as she discovered more about her ancestral story and looked for ways to tell her story to the world.
“This project means a lot to us,” said Laird. “It was personal to me.”
The drawings of different groups of students were on display at the Visitor Center on Wednesday and will be on display there until the end of December, Bond said.
The center is open seven days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, so that everyone can come and see their work.