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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 2: Mound Bayou Part 2: The Political Life of Isaiah Montgomery

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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: 

In 1887 Isaiah T. Montgomery founded the all-Black city of Mound Bayou Mississippi. This was ten years after the infamous Tillden/Hayes Compromise, which resulted "in the United States federal government pulling the last troops out of the South, and formally end[ing] the Reconstruction Era." This was devastating to Southern Blacks. After the Civil War, the federal government was forced to station troops all throughout the South to protect defenseless Blacks from the blood-thirsty wrath of Southern Whites, who refused to concede to losing the Civil War and certainly to accepting Blacks as equal citizens under the law. After the Civil War, Southern Whites committed all types of unspeakable violence and murder against Blacks for offenses real or imagined -- even while being monitored by the U.S. military. Yet, if it were not for the federal government sending the military to the South to protect Blacks after the Civil War, there is no telling how many innocent Black people would have been viciously murdered by Whites angry that they lost the Civil War and the right to own Black people. This is the context in which Mound Bayou was founded.

Black historians often refer to the immediate decades after the Civil War as the nadir, or worst moment in African American history. At least under slavery Blacks were somewhat protected from murder because they were someone's property. However, after the Civil War that was no longer the case. No one captured this dire atmosphere better than the great Frederick Douglas. At his speech at the 1876 Republican National Convention he remarked:

"You say you have emancipated us. You have ; and I thank you for it. You say you have enfranchised us. You have ; and I thank you for it. But what is your emancipation?—what is your enfranchisement? What does it all amount to, if the black man, after having been made free by the letter of your law, is unable to exercise that freedom, and, after having been freed from the slaveholder’s lash, he is to be subject to the slaveholder’s shot-gun? Oh! you freed us! You emancipated us ! I thank you for it. But under what circumstances did you emancipate us ? Under what circumstances have we obtained our freedom ? Sir, ours is the most extraordinary case of any people ever emancipated on the globe. I sometimes wonder that we still exist as a people in this country ; that we have not all been swept out of existence, with nothing left to show that we ever existed. Look at it. When the Israelites were emancipated, they were told to go and borrow of their neighbors,—borrow their coin, borrow their jewels, load themselves down with the means of subsistence : after, they should go free in the land which the Lord God gave them. When the Russian serfs had their chains broken and were given their liberty, the government of Russia—aye, the despotic government of Russia—gave to those poor emancipated serfs a few acres of land on which they could live and earn their bread. But when you turned us loose, you gave us no acres : you turned us loose to the sky, to the storm, to the whirlwind, and, worst of all, you turned us loose to the wrath of our infuriated masters."

This is the climate in which Isaiah T. Montgomery founded Mound Bayou. The federal government had abandoned its mission to protect newly freed Blacks by removing the military from the South and turning over Southern politics back to racist White Southerners who quickly worked to disenfranchise and re-enslave the entire Southern Black population by any means necessary. 

Isaiah Montgomery was born into slavery on the plantation of Joseph Davis, mentor and older brother to Jefferson Davis, who would later become the president of the Confederacy. He understood the volitile atmosphere in which he was living and believed the best course of action for Black people was to separate themselves from Whites by building their own segregated towns and communities. It is what Southern Whites wanted and demanded through violence and intimidation. Because of his leadership position and conservative beliefs, he was selected by Whites as the only Black person to attend the 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention, whose sole purpose was as delegate Solomon Saladin "S.S." Calhoon exclaimed: 

[...] Let's tell the truth if it bursts the bottom of the Universe. [...] We came here to exclude the Negro. Nothing short of this will answer." 

Another delegate, a Bolivar County planter by the name of George P. Melchior, reiterated this view, stating: 

[...] It is the manifest intention of this Convention to secure to the State of Mississippi, 'white supremacy'." 

Not surprisingly Montgomery voted against the "Negro" vote. He was vilified by the Black community for this decision and deemed a traitor. This class provides an indepth analysis of Montgomery's rationale and motives for voting to curtail the voting rights of Blacks. Was Montgomery indeed a traitor to the Black race? a coward? a pragmatist? or a fool? You make the call. What would you have done if you were in Isaiah's shoes?