Natchez, MS residents petition to join Louisiana over new law

Natchez, MS residents petition to join Louisiana over new law
Natchez, Mississippi (Source: WAFB)
Natchez, Mississippi (Source: WAFB)
Natchez, Mississippi (Source: WAFB)
Natchez, Mississippi (Source: WAFB)

NATCHEZ, MS (WAFB) - The city of Natchez may have been carved out of Mississippi mud, but its spirit is made of the same stuff you'll find in New Orleans.

Things like rabid Tiger and Saints fans, a rich history tied to the black water flowing by, and the belief that being a little different never hurt anyone.

"People here enjoying having fun, relaxing, and dancing to the beat of their own drums," said David Gammill, manager of a popular Natchez tamale joint named Fat Mama's.

The city thrives on outsiders coming in. Tourists come from near and far to visit the city's antebellum homes, restaurants and historic sites.

Many of those passing through, are welcomed by chef Regina Charboneau. With a home open for tours in the spring, and a restaurant in the oldest building in town, she has a knack for bringing people together over some good food.

"We're all about hospitality and hospitality for everyone. We don't shut people out and I think that's what's been painful about the governor signing this," said Charboneau.

Mississippi legislators recently passed a law that allows businesses to refuse service or fire employees based on religious beliefs pertaining to marriage.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said it protects religious freedom. Critics said it legalizes discrimination against the LGBT community.

Either way, the new law has brought a fresh wave of controversy to Mississippi, and left many folks in the Little Easy feeling very uneasy.

Charboneau said she was shocked that Mississippi leaders passed the "Religious Liberty Accommodation Act," and she fears the visitors her city depends on for business will no longer come.

"I always said, 'I'm a Mississippian, Southerner, Natchezian first,' and I want to be proud of those words," said Charboneau. "Right now I can say I'm a Natchezian."

The issue caught the eye of Natchez-native Patrick Mulhearn. Having himself defected to Baton Rouge more than two decades ago, he offered a solution for his home town. He penned a letter to the local paper formally inviting the city to embrace its similarities to New Orleans and join Louisiana.

"We felt like we needed to get the message out that Natchez kind of wants to distance itself from Mississippi," said Mulhearn, who runs Celtic Media in Baton Rouge.

The note was meant to be a little satire, a joke on April Fool's Day. However, his words struck a chord and by the end of the day, a petition to secede from Mississippi was making its rounds online.

The petition gained more than 700 signatures from around the state within a few days.

"It's fantastic that Natchez gets it. They want to send a message to the world that, please don't lump us in with everybody else," said Mulhearn.

The petition has been the talk of the town. Gammill said he understands why it has gotten such attention. Describing the town as laid back and inclusive, he said the new law has a big impact on every family invested in the state. However, there's still one thing he hasn't heard.

"I haven't heard any comment if Louisiana would be interested in having us," laughed Gammill.

While it is unlikely Natchez will be flying a pelican flag anytime soon, the petition's message is clear.

"People are welcome here and if the governor of Louisiana wants us we'll come on over," said Charboneau.

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