Natchez Home Site Added to Mississippi Freedom Trail – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper
By Roscoe Barnes III
NATCHEZ – The Dr. John Banks House, which once served as the headquarters of the Natchez NAACP, will be the first site of a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker in Natchez. Approval of the designation by the Mississippi Humanities Council and Visit Mississippi means the city will now be listed on the state’s Freedom Trail and the US Civil Rights Trail.
News of the landmark recognition was announced recently by Dr. Stuart Rockoff, Executive Director of MHC. In an email dated May 23, he wrote, “I am pleased to share the news that the Freedom Trail Scholars Committee has approved your application to place a marker at Banks House in Natchez.
Plans are underway for a groundbreaking and unveiling ceremony later this year.
Devin Heath, executive director of Visit Natchez, said Natchez’s inclusion on the Freedom Trail highlights the important role the city played in the civil rights movement. “It is also an opportunity to honor and recognize those who paved the way for us,” he said.
“To see Natchez approved for inclusion on the Mississippi Freedom Trail and the US Civil Rights Trail is a dream come true,” Mayor Dan Gibson said. “Since day one of our administration, we have yearned for this to happen. I am very grateful to Devin Heath and Dr Roscoe Barnes III of Visit Natchez, and to Mr Robert Pernell, who first dropped this idea on my desk, and to our amazing committee for making our dream a reality.
The Mississippi Freedom Trail is part of the US Civil Rights Trail. It was created in 2011 to honor people and places that played a major role in the civil rights movement. A total of 25 markers are now posted on the trail, which includes Cleveland, Ruleville, Greenwood, Holly Springs, Clarksdale, and Jackson.
Efforts to have Natchez listed on the Freedom Trail were led by the Natchez Civil Rights Trail Committee. In addition to Heath and Gibson, volunteer committee members include Roscoe Barnes III, cultural heritage tourism manager for Visit Natchez; Robert Pernell, chairman of the Natchez US Colored Troops Monument Committee; Reverend Clifton Marvel Sr., pastor of the Baptist Church of Greater Macedonia; Carter Burns, executive director of the Natchez Historical Foundation; Kathleen McClain Bond, Superintendent of Natchez National Historical Park; Lance S. Harris, director of the Natchez Indian Grand Village; Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Natchez Adams County NAACP branch president; William Terrell, editor and publisher of The Bluff City Post; and James Ware, president of the Natchez Business and Civic League.
Support for the project, which is in Ward 4, also came from Alderman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving and members of Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the property.
In addition to serving as the headquarters of the NAACP, Banks House was the residence of NAACP President George Metcalfe. In 1964, during Freedom Summer, when a thousand volunteers converged on the state to work with black Mississippians to register voters and operate Freedom Schools, members of the Student Coordinating Committee non-violent (DCS) resided in the house.
In January 1965, “night riders” who committed acts of violence at night with the aim of instilling terror shot through a window of the house. On August 27, 1965, Metcalfe was seriously injured when his car was bombed at the Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant by the Ku Klux Klan.
The Freedom Trail marker display at Natchez has a price tag of $9,000. However, this is made possible through a partnership between Visit Mississippi and MHC. The two agencies are using federal funds through the United States Economic Development Administration to cover the cost of 20 Freedom Trail markers statewide.
“We couldn’t be more excited to work with Visit Mississippi to preserve and promote Mississippi’s vital civil rights history,” Rockoff said in the May 2022 issue of MHC’s newsletter. “Our hope is that these markers not only attract tourists, but also strengthen our communities by helping all Mississippians appreciate our state’s vital civil rights history.”
Roscoe Barnes III is the Head of Cultural Heritage Tourism at Visit Natchez.