“I’ve always loved magnolia trees and their blooms—there’s something so beautiful about a magnolia blossom. It demands attention, and you can’t help but love those big, creamy petals and that fragrant smell.” – Joanna Gaines
Although late in the season, the Magnolia trees around Natchez were still full of blossoms when we walked through the historic district this morning, You can find them everywhere growing along the streets, in public parks, and in private gardens where they peer over the walls. They are not dainty flowers, they are huge and bold and strike a pose next to the rich, hunter’s green leaves that surround them.
Natchez is a picturesque and somewhat sleepy place these days. Like Vicksburg, it sits on a high bluff that overlooks the Mississippi and there is much interesting architecture from the various periods of American history that testifies to the former wealth and opulence of the city. Part of that wealth was due to the fact that Natchez was the second biggest market in the Domestic Slave Trade Industry. There is a little signage and a tiny memorial (slave manacles set in concrete) that acknowledges its role, but the shabby wooden buildings at the Forks in the Road, a crossroads that once housed the auctioneer rooms have long since gone.
We spent our morning exploring and taking in the ambiance of the town, and then stopped for lunch in a quirky, conversation-provoking establishment on the outskirts. The entrance to the restaurant took the form of a stereotypical, “mammy” figure with a kerchief and a voluminous skirt. There is no doubt that it was a relic from an era that was extremely comfortable in displaying overt racist symbolism, and it lead to good observations from our students regarding the intersection of race, gender, and history.
Finally, before leaving Natchez, we visited Melrose Plantation, which is now owned by the National Park Service. The classic Greek revival house and the grounds were built in the 1840s. Unusually, the rooms contain all their original furnishings, including an enormous wooden fan that sits about the dining table. The museum staff and curators have done careful work in restoring some of the slave cabins on the property, and the information they provide about the institution is honest and well-documented. Still, the focus of a visit there is to see the house and learn about the family that owned it. It will be interesting to contrast the experience with our visit to Whitney Plantation, which is a museum dedicated to the memory of the enslaved men, women and children that worked and died there.
We made it to New Orleans last night and got our first taste of creole cooking at The Gumbo Shop. The French Quarter was full of energy and excitement, and now we are looking forward to a closer look over the next couple of days!