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Unit 7: Post-Reconstruction (1877 – 1935)

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

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Learning Objectives
After completing this lesson, students 
will be able to:
  • Analyze the reasons Black people sought to build their own towns after enslavement instead of integrate with Whites.
  • Discuss how Black people governed themselves and worked together for mutual assistance after enslavement.

  • Understand the concept of cooperative economics and how it was used to build and sustain Mound Bayou.

  • Discuss the hardships Blacks faced in creating and sustaining Mound Bayou.

Class Overview: 

Contrary to popular belief, the end of African enslavement after the Civil War did not mean that Black people were in a much better social, economic or political position than slavery. In fact, many Black historians point to the first three decades after the Civil War as the nadir, or worst period of African American history. Under slavery, African Americans were protected to a degree from outright murder because they were someone's property. After slavery was over, this was no longer the case, and thus countless Black men, women and children were mercilessly killed by angry Whites all over the South following the Civil War for charges real or imagined. This is the period of American history referred to as Reconstruction. This is when the Ku Klux Klan first began, lynching began, sharecropping began, and the modern day prison system began, which sought to re-enslave Black men and strip them of their new right to vote. Historian Dorothy Sterling has vividly captured the harsh reality of life for Blacks immediately following the Civil War in her well-researched book, "The Trouble They Seen: The Story of Reconstruction in the Words of African Americans." ​​  This book is a must read for any real understanding of the Reconstruction period from an African American perspective.

After the Civil War, even though Black people were declared free and equal under the law, they were not treated as such. White people were not ready to treat people as equals whom they treated as non-human for centuries. It was an absolutely humiliating and unthinkable concept for Southern Whites. They had fought against it and lost, badly. Over 800,000 White men died during the Civil War. Not only did they had to come home and bury hundreds of thousands of their men (fathers, husbands, brothers, sons), they had to face the immediate financial loss as a result of the War, and to add insult to injury they had to now accept their former slaves as equals, and quite possibly as superiors. Their rage manifested itself in all types of unspeakable violence against Black people, and they conspired on every level to reduce Blacks to a second-class position in Southern society, reminiscent of slavery.  

Mound Bayou was a successful attempt on behalf of African Americans to to create a prosperous all-Black town while providing a safe haven away from Whites. The goal of the colonists, who were all formerly enslaved, was to establish from the ground up an all-Black town that would be governed by its members and free of the influence, violence, and intimidation of Whites. Their strategy for Black liberation was separation and withdrawal from Southern politics, and Black/White cooperation in all things of mutual economic interest. They understood through ceaseless violence that White people were not willing to accept them as neighbors, let alone as their equals. And they were certainly not ready to respect them in positions of authority as judges, policemen, and Congressmen. In response, the pioneers of Mound Bayou, led by Isaiah T. Montgomery, created one of the first successful all-Black towns after slavery based on cooperative economics. What they accomplished is a remarkable tale of unity, resiliency, dedication, perseverance, democracy, hard work, leadership and faith. Mound Bayou became a model community that others sought to emulate, and it inspired individuals such as Booker T. Washington, who would go on to promote Mound Bayou as a viable strategy for African American self-determination. 

This class is Part 1 of our two part series on Mound Bayou. Part 2 provides an indepth look into the political life of Isaiah T. Montgomery, the founder of Mound Bayou. Because of his position of leadership and his political beliefs, he was selected by Southern Whites as the only Black person to attend the 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention, in which he voted no in regards to the "Negro" voting question. This was seen at the time as a huge betrayal by the Black community and Isaiah Montgomery faced a lifetime of contempt from those he sought to lead. Part 2 re-examines this political decision within the context of the reality in which he lived. Was Montgomery's vote an act of betrayal, desperation, or cowardice? You make the call!
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