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Natchez planning monument in honor of those jailed during Parchman Ordeal

Ronald Coleman’s eyes well up while talking about his experiences during the Parchman Ordeal. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — More than a half-century after hundreds of black Natchezians faced unjust imprisonment, the city plans to memorialize those involved in the infamous ordeal.

Robert Pernell, head of the mayor-appointed Parchman Ordeal Committee, earlier this week unveiled detailed plans for a monument to be engraved “Proud to Take a Stand.”

The 6-foot-tall, 12-foot-long monument will contain not only the more than 150 names of those sent to the state penitentiary at Parchman, but also a narrative that includes the city’s resolution passed in 2015 apologizing for the events that occurred in 1965.

“We will come full circle, 52 years later,” Pernell said. “We now have a monument, we understand what happened in the past, we’re not trying to hide from that, but look where we are now with a resolution recognizing it, apologizing for it, and we’re all going forward together.”

After much discernment, the committee settled on the property of the city auditorium, near the corner of Canal and Jefferson streets, as an ideal location for the monument.

To avoid placing the structure on grass, the committee intends to turn the location into a plaza that will surround the monument.

The group also factored handicap accessibility, drainage and parking into the proposed placement of the monument.

One official listening to Pernell’s presentation had a personal connection to the Parchman Ordeal.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said his father was one of the many sent to Parchman. Grennell enlightened those in attendance to how that night unfolded.

“They knew before they had the meeting that night that they were going to jail because there was rumor in the street that if they marched that they were going to be arrested,” Grennell said. “The marchers took the position that if they’re going to arrest us today, we’re going to fill up the jails in Natchez-Adams County. And that they did — the jails were saturated, the county jail, the city jail.

“There was a residual that they took to the city auditorium and they chartered buses to come in and take them up to Parchman. My dad was one of the ones that went to Parchman.”

Those planning to march from local churches did so in the hopes of advancing civil rights. The ones sent to Parchman became subjects of abuse and unjust punishment.

Grennell and the aldermen thanked the committee for its work thus far, and the board voted unanimously to approve the plans presented that day.

Pernell said he and the committee would move forward with the project, including plans to secure funds so the monument can become a reality.

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