Natchitoches’ Texas & Pacific Railway Depot, built in 1927, took its place as the 13th stop on the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail with an unveiling of its Civil Rights Trail marker before a standing room only crowd of supporters. The event also served as an open house to mark the depot’s new life as the headquarters of the National Park Services’ Cane River Creole National Historical Park and as a museum. The street housing the depot was renamed “Remembrance Way” after the suggestion by then East Elementary sixth grader Melodie Rice whose essay won a competition to rename the street.
The event was emceed by the well known retired broadcaster Norman Robinson with an invocation by local civil rights leader Ed Ward. Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, Natchitoches mayor Ronnie Williams, Carrie Mardorf of the National Park Service and Claire Prymus of the Ben D. Johnson Center all gave remarks at the ceremony. Afterwards, the marker was unveiled by Lieutenant Nungesser and the dignitaries.
The marker is six feet tall and made out of steel. Like its counterparts throughout the state, it commemorates an aspect of the long struggle of our state’s African-Americans for freedom and equality. The building is one of a few surviving examples of a segregated public facility in Louisiana, with separate waiting rooms for each race. The depot was vital to area residents who fled the segregated South seeking a better life in other areas of the country during the Great Migration. The depot also was the last stop as the bodies of those that left were brought home from all over the country to their final resting places in their home cemeteries. The trains arriving to and leaving from, the depot carried mail. The mailbox in the rear of the depot was often used late at night to send letters free from prying eyes, a serious issue in the days when involvement in the Civil Rights struggle risked a job loss or even violence.
The depot’s 18-month restoration, the culmination of efforts decades in the making, was a collaboration between the City of Natchitoches, the National Park Service and the Cane River National Heritage Area. The Texas & Pacific Railway Depot is an integral part of our area’s, and our state’s, history. The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail Marker and accompanying museum are fitting ways to preserve and commemorate this unique aspect of our past.