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.​​​

again over E.P. Booze. Following Isaiah Montgomery’s death in 1924, and the departure of a discouraged Charles Banks in 1922, these two men two men continued to oppose each other for mayor, and though cooperating on some issues, represented two factions in the town. The split was apparent even during the gala Fiftieth Anniversary Celebrations, when two separate celebrations were held, one by Mayor Green, and one by Mr. Booze. The full effect of this feud on the town is unclear, but it surely deterred both men, and the town, from concentration on their common enemy—poverty, injustice, and racism.

Mound Bayou did not escape this enemy, for the simple reason that Black people possessed no political power in the state. And strangely enough, a portion of this powerlessness could be traced to the actions of none other than Isaiah T. Montgomery! When the settlers had come to Mound Bayou in 1887, many were attempting to escape the physical intimidation of racist white politicians. They found in Bolivar County a system of politics known as the "fusion principle," in which whites took all of the good county offices for themselves, and allowed the Black people a few offices which had no power. Montgomery and other Blacks accepted this system only because their lack of political organization gave them no other choice, and in 1890 Montgomery was elected on such a fusion ticket to represent Bolivar County in the Constitutional Convention, a meeting called to eliminate the Black man's vote, and thus his power. The only Black man in the meeting, Montgomery could have protested violently the entire meeting instead, he chose to remain and salvage what he could. Incredibly enough, he voted both for the institution of a poll tax, and the use of the infamous "understanding clause." Though his motivations and strategy are much too complex to be covered in their entirety here, it would appear that Montgomery was attempting to play the same game that his father had played at Davis Bend with the surrounding white society. Nevertheless, he realized that it was a mistake. In 1901 he wrote Booker T. Washington that the federal government would have to intervene so that Blacks could have the power to determine their own lives through the power of the ballot. Seeing this as a remote possibility, he and Banks chose the only other avenue available to them—working behind the scenes in Republican politics. Both he and Banks were active in fighting the racists in both the Democratic and Republican parties, and it was Montgomery who founded the Committee of One Hundred, an organization which in 1946, many years after his death, took the first steps towards eliminating the mistakes of the past by attempting to re-establish the Black vote. And it was Montgomery's daughter, Mrs. Mary Booze, who became a Republican National Committeewoman from the state in 1924, and who was actively involved in this struggle. Nevertheless, the internal factions of Mound Bayou deeply hurt this struggle, and the only result of these feuds was the mysterious murders of another daughter of Montgomery, and E.P. Booze himself. These murders opened the door for a raid on Mound Bayou in 1939 by the National Guard, a raid which had no justification, and an event which served notice who the common enemy really was.

In the face of depression, division, and racism, Mound Bayou continued to survive, and continued to pursue programs designed to allow Mound Bayou to fulfill its greater potential. In 1929 the Mound Bayou Foundation was formed for the purpose of attracting one million dollars in capital into the disaster-stricken town. It was their efforts which brought the resettlement program to Mound Bayou, a program which brought Black people back from the cities to their own lands And it was this organization which helped organize a fabulous celebration in 1937 on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the town, an event which included a speech by the nationally known orator Roscoe Conkling Simmons, and an exhibition race by Jesse Owens. Moreover, only one year after the destructive fire of 1941 the Taborian Lodge dedicated in Mound Bayou one of the few Black-controlled hospitals in the country. Combined with its modern educational system, Mound Bayou once again turned itself defiantly towards the future. A new era had begun.

Rebirth and Reaction

Strange as it may sound, the last thirty years of the history of Mound Bayou are probably the most difficult to discuss and assess. This difficulty

Presley's Gin & Grocery Store, one of Mound Bayou's 40 businesses.
One of Mound Bayou's 6 churches. Churches were social centers in addition to being houses of worship. Churches were also responsible for starting schools in the community. 









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