OXFORD — Oxford Town Commissioners met to discuss the Middle Passage signage project, updating old signs around the town and a recent wave of tidal flooding affecting local roads, waterfront homes and businesses Tuesday night.
A work session covered five possible locations for a large sign, measuring approximately 3 by 5 feet, to commemorate the Middle Passage of the slave trade. The Middle Passage refers to the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean that brought millions of enslaved people from Africa to ports in the New World, including the port of Oxford. The area would be accompanied by benches forming a sanctuary where people can sit and reflect.
Commission President Gordon Fronk explained that the Middle Passage signage has an important message from the sign’s organizers for the community.
“They wanted to be able to dedicate a sign to commemorate the last vessel that carried slaves from the last recorded roster,” Fronk said.
Oxford Town Commissioner Jim Jaramillo spoke about the Middle Passage signage and its importance to the town.
“It’s a significant project. It tells the history of Oxford in general and I’m a big supporter of the project. We just have to decide where it is going to go. You have to work with everybody, both parties or all parties involved and getting input from the town in general,” Jaramillo said.
At first there were four proposed locations for the sign and benches. Now a fifth location is proposed.
“I’m hoping that we’ll get some input from the town and can then make a decision soon. But we have another option coming up and now we have five options. So we have to discuss that with everybody,” Jaramillo said.
About a dozen residents showed up at the workshop, which was an hour before the main meeting began, to give feedback on the Middle Passage signage project.
“I think the workshop we had before the meeting was the most important thing. The point of the workshop was to give a group of people the ability to have free speech and talk about something that’s harder to do in our meeting’s position,” said Oxford Town Manager Cheryl Lewis.
“On that one topic, we will be bringing it up again and again to try and get residents and people aware of the proposal and have them participate in the process,” Lewis said.
While meeting attendants were discussing one sign in particular, other signs were discussed as well.
Barbara Ranson, a town resident, came to the meeting to raise awareness to the fact that many signs in the town are outdated, have mistakes or are in need of being updated.
“Some of the signs are old and they need to be replaced, they’re broken or they’re missing signs that tell you where the restaurants are, where the shops are or where the post office is,” Ranson said.
While officials were discussing signs, the waters were rising with the tides around the town waterfront.
Lewis says flooding this week is a concern.
“It’s tidal flooding which we’ve had some experience with before. We had bad tidal flooding back in October, mostly due to winds and a storm that had passed and we are experiencing some high tidal flooding this week,” Lewis said.
Commissioners are looking at solutions for the flooding which is expected to get worse in coming years.
“It presents concerns for the public because it does get in the streets and hopefully won’t get into the homes but those are things we have to prepare for,” Lewis said.