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The Standing on the Shoulders of Giants "Teach & Learn" Black History Curriculum​​

Specially designed for Parents, Teachers, Homeschool, or Independent Study, grades 5+

Where Black
History Lives!​

Unit 7: Post-Reconstruction (1877 – 1935)

Class 1: Mound Bayou: One of the First All-Black Towns Founded by Formerly Enslaved Blacks PART 1

Insipration Behind Mound Bayou cont.​​​

The fall of 1887 marked the arrival of the first group of settlers. Leaving their families behind, this sturdy group of men faced the typically difficult obstacles of forging a frontier community. Less than 75 acres were available for cultivation, land owned mainly by poor whites who had settled there years previously. The rest was covered by a thick coating of trees and undergrowth, through which the only means of moving was by hatchet or machete. The forests were filled with wild animals, and there was the ever-present fear of swamp fever, to which some settlers succumbed. Nevertheless, this small band of Black men, many of whom had struggled with the Montgomery's and the rest of the men fell to their knees and prayed for guidance in their momentous undertaking. Montgomery then turned to the men and exclaimed:

Why stagger at the difficulties that confront you; have you not for centuries braved the miasma and hewn down forests like these at the behest of a master? Can you not do it for yourselves and your children unto successive generations that they may worship and develop under their own vine and fig tree?

With a singleness of purpose the men set about clearing the land and Montgomery arranged with the railroad to have the men sleep on the night train to Memphis, where they would transfer to another train heading back towards Vicksburg in the morning. Ben Green rigged up a groundhog saw mill to lay by timber for homes, and by October the first cabin went up. These little cabins, constructed from the raw materials of the land, provided some protection from the elements, yet they were anything but comfortable. By the end of 1887 some 80 or 90 acres of land had been cleared, but a flood late in the year nearly destroyed all of their work. However, the settlers persisted in their efforts and in February of 1888 the first women and children arrived, and the first crops of corn and cotton were planted.

For several years the settlers just barely got by, the major means of subsistence being the sale of excess timber to the railroad for cross ties and staves. Some settlers sharecropped; others sent their wives and children to work as domestics or pick cotton for white planters, thereby "keeping the wolf from the door." It was not a comfortable existence, and some of the settlers didn't last. In fact, at the end of five years, many of the settlers including Montgomery were largely in debt to the railroad. However, Montgomery induced the railroad to renew the contracts whenever necessary, and if a man failed, another was put in his place. Simon Gaiter, one of the original settlers, offered this summary of life in these frontier days: When I started to Mound Bayou, I had $175 in total cash assets, and after purchases of land and provisions, I had left only ten dollars. I planted a garden, set my wife and children about to clear up land at $4 per acre, while I myself went into the woods and engaged in getting out stave boards. In the fall most of the women and children of the neighborhood went to Shelby and picked cotton. In 1889 I picked cotton for the Messrs. Blanchard Bros., white planters, and I rolled logs at night, and made staves in the day...

The first few years brought the establishment of the basic institutions of the community. Montgomery's wife and Ben Green set up a small supply store in March of 1888, and began to cater to most of the colony's needs. They purchased the saw mill and erected the first gin.

A post office was set up at Montgomery's home, and train tickets were available in the store. Montgomery and his sister even began holding classes for the children in his home in the evenings, and the Green Grove Baptist Church was founded in another settler’s home. Montgomery was clearly the town leader, and embodied the town government during the first few years, being as he was, the symbol of the hope of the town. To the settlers, Mound Bayou clearly represented the attempt to disprove the prevalent notion that Blacks could not control and develop themselves. A.P. Hood said it clearly in 1910; "The Mound Bayou effort must not fail...a reputation of a race is at hazard."

Once again the idea of an all-Black, self-determining community was at stake. 


People To Know
Charles Banks (1873–1923). Banks was one of the first pioneers of Mound Bayou. He was one of the most influential businessmen in Mound Bayou and founded the Bank of Mound Bayou.
Recommended Book


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