The History of Mound Bayou, Mississippi
A Cradle of African American Self Government in America

Milburn J. Crowe, Mound Bayou Historian History compiled by the late Mr. Milburn J. Crowe (pictured), Certified Local Government Coordinator and member of the Mound Bayou Historic Preservation Commission.

 

 

The Prelude

Isaiah T. Montgomery and his first cousin, Benjamin T. Green, Co-Founder, both of who were born in slavery on the Hurricane Plantation on Davis Bend, Warren County, Mississippi, the property of Joseph Emory Davis, elder brother of Jefferson Davis. Montgomery's father, Benjamin Thornton Montgomery, was purchased in the slave market at Natchez, Mississippi. He had the advantage of a liberal education received under the tutelage of a former master in Louden County, Virginia, which was encouraged by the Davis brothers to inspire their other slaves and promote their business affairs. Isaiah's mother, Mary Lewis Montgomery was also of Virginia extraction, though she was born on the Hurricane Plantation. Isaiah was born on the 21st day of May, 1847. He was the younger of two sons, and there were two sisters younger than himself.

Isaiah never attended school as we customarily think of school, but his father was concerned about the education of his children. He taught them the elementaries and hired both black and white tutors for them. When Joe Davis discovered his slaves were receiving a better education than some of his family members, he arranged for his relatives to attend to have that opportunity. Neighbors learning of this integration education arrangement, pressured for a stop to the practice. At about nine or ten years of age Isaiah was called to work in the office of Joe Davis, later he assumed entire charge of his public and private offices. and held this responsibility until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Benjamin Montgomery was a remarkable man who rose above the condition of slavery. He operated a mercantile business on Davis Bend with a high rating by Brad & Dunn Street. He keeps accounts with his slave master's family members, extending credit to Joe Davis on several occasions, operated the Post Office on the Bend, and marketed the crops from the plantations. The Montgomery’s managed the plantations for a period of time during the war when the Davis’s moved inland for safety, taking some of the slaves. The Freedman's Bureau operated the Bend as a refuge for slaves, which proved to be a less than agreeable arrangement for the former slaves.

Shortly after the war in 1867, the Montgomery’s entered an agreement with Joe Davis for the purchase of the plantations, consisting of four thousand acres, for $300,000 at 6% per annum. Joe Davis wished that the plantations would be managed by the Montgomery’s as a home and for the benefit of their former slaves.

The Montgomery’s managed the property for eighteen years during which time they ranked a the third largest cotton producers in the South, receiving several coveted prizes in international competitions. Isaiah and his family lived at the Brierfield Plantation. The Hurricane Mansion was burned by federal troops during the war. On account of recurrent overflows of the river and disagreement of the heirs of Joe Davis, they surrendered the plantations and moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where Isaiah had opened a store. Benjamin Montgomery died at Brierfield mansion in 1878, and Mary Lewis Montgomery died in 1875.

The Founding of the Colony

In the spring of 1887 Isaiah T. Montgomery and a few other stout hearted men set foot on the ground at Mound Bayou, "the forest primeval", in quest of a country where "God dwelt and liberty". These men had left comfortable homes for this undertaking. "Freedom from the annoying and unnecessary restraints imposed upon them by continued residence in the midst of and surrounded by those with whom they had always heretofore lived, on terms apparently altogether incompatible with the concession of those privileges and prerogatives appertaining to free and untrammeled citizenship was one very strong actuating motive in determining these men to discard the comforts and conveniences of the lives to which they had become accustomed and to break into the wilderness hitherto unexplored, engaging in hand to hand conflict with the forces of nature, there to erect (in imitation of the white man, if you please), a civilization of their own. The utmost liberty of the individual consistent with the preservation of the rights of others against infringement is surely an indispensable condition of free government, and it is toward the realization of this condition that the administration of democratic government should be made to tend, in practice as well as in theory", wrote A.P. Hood in The Negro at Mound Bayou.

How Mound Bayou Began

Isaiah Montgomery and George McGinnis, Land Agent of the Louisville, New Orleans, and Texas Railway (L.N.O.T.), began corresponding, and a meeting was arranged between the two men through the Black Secretary of State, James Hill. Montgomery negotiated the proposition of an all-Black colony, and submitted a plan to the railroad which was accepted. A series of trips through the Delta was made by Montgomery for several months in the fall of 1886, accompanied by a civil engineer, in search of a site "as remote from other established settlements as possible." Finally, on July 12, 1887, he selected a site in Bolivar County just about half way between Vicksburg and Memphis, at the junction of two bayous and a large Indian mound that was a part of an Indian plaza, from which the name was derived.

Isaiah, now a man of forty, had little difficulty convincing Benjamin T. Green, A. Wilbert, Beverly J. Arrington, Peter Harris, Thompson Black, Alfred Johnson, Perry Strong, and others on the advantages and desirability of the undertaking, and he soon enlisted their cooperation.

It was not an easy beginning for the men who worked at clearing land during the fall of 1887, where they had cleared about 80 or 90 acres, and most of their work was destroyed by a flood later in the year. Montgomery had arranged with the railroad for the men to sleep on the night train to Memphis, where they would transfer to another train heading toward Vicksburg in the morning. Some of the men were posted to watch for the wild animals while the others worked at the clearing of the dense undergrowth. Ben T. Green rigged up a groundhog saw mill to lay by timber for homes, and by October the first cabin went up, while providing some protection, were anything but comfortable. In late December, Montgomery and Green purchased 840 acres of land at $7.00 per acre, paying $420.00 down with the balance due in five annual payments. Montgomery acted as land agent for the railroad offering 40 acre tracts at $8 or $9 per acre, though he required a $40 entrance fee on each 40 acre tract. There have been several accounts, but it is estimated that there were about thirty families who undertook the challenge. Montgomery recounted that, "The people had to be found and then inspired with a sentiment similar to this, 'Why stagger at the difficulties that confront you; have you not for centuries braved the miasma and hewn down forest 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?'"

The first women and children arrived in February, 1888, and the first crops of corn and cotton were planted. Isaiah's sister, Virginia, started holding classes for the children in their home. In March, Mrs. Montgomery and Benjamin Green set up a small supply store. They purchased the saw mill and erected the first gin. The post office was set up at Montgomery's home, and train tickets were available in the store.

Two years after the founding of Mound Bayou, at Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Mississippi Jurisdiction of the International Order of the Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor, Mississippi Jurisdiction, was organized, later to be headquartered at Mound Bayou, and destined to play a significant role in Mound Bayou's history.

The Desire For a College Town

Isaiah Montgomery was instrumental in the founding of Campbell College, and he persuaded the railroad company to donate over one thousand acres of land near Mound Bayou for educational purposes. He was elected as its second president and served until about 1898, when he resigned as president. He revealed that he had plans for the land as a site of an agricultural education school, which did not materialize. Although a school was established on a portion of the land for a few years, affiliated with the A.M.E. Church. In later years, after the death of Montgomery, an effort to establish the college on the land proved a failure, and the college went into receivership and failed.

Montgomery's Public Service

In public life, Montgomery had been a delegate to the Warren County Republican Convention during the Blair Campaign, from which he was sent as a delegate to the District Congressional Convention where he delivered his first public speech, naming Mr. R. F. Beck, at Magnolia Hall in Vicksburg. It was in 1888 that he was placed on the Republican County Committee in Bolivar County, where he endorsed the fusion movement in county elections, but the Democratic Party ignored the arrangement for the selection of delegates to the Constitutional Convention. He was pressed by the Republican County Committee to become a candidate in company with George P. Melchoir, and the result of the election held July 29, 1890; he was elected as a delegate from Bolivar County to the Constitutional Convention.

Bitterly criticized by many Black leaders for his participation in that gathering designed to disfranchise blacks, he stated that he would rather see his people disfranchised based on ignorance than to be disfranchised based on race. He reasoned that his people could overcome ignorance, but could never overcome race. He believed that his approach provided a long range solution to the race problem and conditions existing at that time, for the ultimate benefit of his state. A. P. Hood wrote in 1909 of his participation, "An untoward condition had provided the theme, his soul was in the final effort he was to make to 'bridge the chasm' of racial temperance and feeling, and his speech was a masterpiece of oratory such as been seldom heard on the floor of the Mississippi house of representatives at any time and in any age.

Montgomery approached the subject in the spirit of conciliation and sacrifice. His address was received with varying emotions throughout the country, many of his own people dissenting from the compromising tenor assumed by him, but it has been made to appear since that Montgomery was probably more nearly right than those who opposed the stand he took. At least, it has not yet clearly appeared that any material good end would have been served by the assumption on his part of an attitude of belligerency rather than one of compromise and conciliation as adopted by him."

Also, in 1890, Montgomery led a delegation from the Delta to Washington seeking support for the construction of a levee system to control the overflows of the Mississippi River.

In the spring of 1902, Montgomery was appointed Receiver of Public Monies for the State of Mississippi by President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had directed Edgar S. Wilson, who headed the U.S. Land Office in Mississippi to offer Montgomery the appointment, after conferring with Booker T. Washington. Montgomery was not to eager to accept, but did so after Wilson and other state Republicans urged him to do so. Thornton Montgomery claimed that a Mississippi Republican faction wanted to oust all black officeholders and instigated an audit, conducted by a special agent from Washington in a surprise inspection one Sunday morning in May, 1903. One man Montgomery appealed to was A. A. Sharp, President of the Round away Manufacturing Company. Sharp insisted that Montgomery, a man of the highest integrity had been guilty of no more than a technical error.

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt stopped his train at Mound Bayou, and spoke to the citizens for ten minutes from the rear platform. He payed high compliments on the town and the bank.

In 1909, at the dedication of a permanent memorial to Abraham Lincoln at his birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky, on the centennial of his birth, President Roosevelt gave the major address, and deposited in the box a cop of the United states Constitution. Governor Folk handed Montgomery a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Montgomery, on behalf of former slaves, deposited a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, saying, "At this the birthplace of the immortal Lincoln I speak as one of the four million slaves that received the priceless boon of liberty through a stroke of his pen, and as a representative of ten millions of Negro citizens of our beloved country.

"I would speak of him as one of exceeding humble birth, rocked in the cradle of adversity, but chosen of God the prophet of human liberty and the liberator of not merely the body of four million black men, but of the minds and hearts of all his countrymen. "I wish that words of mine could merely recall but impress upon you the fact that he entered the mighty contest that engaged his great talents not as the enemy but as the true friend of the South, opposing slavery in the spirit of Kentucky's great statesman, Henry Clay, whose sublime utterances he frequently quoted in the famous anti-slavery debates with Douglas.

"From the moment he entered that contest we see him rise and tower above all the other figures of his day. Whether in pleading, in suffering or in commanding, his rugged character stands out as a beacon-light marking the pathway of truth and righteousness until the culminating act of his career: the promulgation of the immortal 'Emancipation Proclamation,' a copy of which I now have the honor to deposit among the archives of this commemorating cornerstone. I deposit this proclamation:- "First, on behalf of ten millions of grateful people who will ever remember the noble man who espoused their helpless cause without hope of fee or reward. "Second, on behalf of a free and united people still impressed with the presence of grave and unresolved difficulties, yet all alike cherishing the life and example of this great man, looking upward full of hope, with an abiding faith in the great Author of our national destiny."

It was on this date that in New York the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was born, following a race riot in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln Land. A southern publisher's editorial following this riot sparked the response that led to the Lincoln Birthday gathering that gave birth to the interracial NAACP. This same year, according to Hermann, inequities continued, $7,000 for Bolivar County schools came from Negro poll taxes and only $1,300 from whites, but the funds were always equally divided between the races. That meant that 1,300 white children received the same education allotment as 12,000 colored pupils; as a result, black schools could pay teachers only $15 to $35 per month for four-month terms, while white teachers received $55 or more per month for a six-month session.

An Emphasis on Education

The value of education was recognized. Aside from getting the railway to donate over a thousand acres for educational purposes, Montgomery and Green donated a tract of land in 1892, on which the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute was built with assistance from the American Missionary Association, "designed to supplement the inadequate curriculum of the public schools." (Present campus of the I.T. Montgomery Elementary School.) The school was supported largely by tuition but continued to receive some financial assistance from the A.M.A. which was responsible for providing the first principal (teacher), Mrs. Annie Randolph from New England. She was succeeded by Miss Mary E. Crump of Memphis, TN. Later Miss Minnie S. Washington Jordan, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, headed the school. The school continued to grow under the able principalship of Professor B.F. Ousley. A complete high school course was added. Vocational instruction in domestic arts and science, and music was offered. Professor Ousley served for a period of sixteen years, and upon his resignation, was succeeded by Professor F.M. Roberts, a graduate of Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was assisted by a former student of the same school and graduate of Hampton Institute, Professor Robert Ross.

Baptist College

Was established about 1904, through the efforts of Mrs. A.A. Harris by orders of the General Baptist State Convention. The school was supported by an annual tuition and regular fund drives by the Baptist Women Workers' Union. Others among those responsible for the early success of the school were Mrs. V.L. Alexander, Mrs. M.C.C. Collins and Mrs. M.D. Crawford. The first principal was Professor John Capshaw; second, Professor R.C. McCorkel; third, Professor P.M. Smith; and the last, Professor A.A. Thompson. The school was discontinued in 1936.

Booker T. Washington and Others Helped

Washington, with his close dealings with Mound Bayou, mostly through the National Negro Business League and Charles Banks, in 1912, got Julius Rosenwald to donate $1,000 for a school. He had also convinced Andrew Carnegie to donate $4,000 for the construction of a library.

Town of Mound Bayou - A School

Washington said that Mound Bayou was "...not merely a town, but at the same time and in a very real sense of the word, a school. It is not only a place where a Negro may get inspiration...but a place, also, where he has the opportunity to learn some of the fundamental duties and responsibilities of social and civic life."

Montgomery, in a letter to Mrs. Jefferson Davis in 1900, said that the churches and schools were: "...well represented, though we are not doing as well in this line for the younger generation as I would like; special care and preparation is needed to train and educate the youth in order that they may be well qualified to take up our farm work and bring it to higher development instead of being drawn away by the peculiar attractions of town and city life..." Montgomery told Washington in 1907 that Mound Bayou needed an "agricultural school." "But more than that we need here a system of education that will teach our young men and women the underlying meaning of the work that is being done here. The problem of education is at present the most important which the town and colony have to solve."

Charles Banks said in 1910 that the private schools in Mound Bayou were "superior in every way to the public schools paid out of state funds."

A visitor to Mound Bayou in 1915 wrote that though the schools were better than most he had seen for Blacks, he still cited the public schools as being inadequately equipped, running for only five months per year and the private schools for operating on a very slim budget.

Public Schools Consolidated and BCTS Started

During the movement to consolidate and improve the schools, Montgomery and other citizens worked to solve the problems. Montgomery's son-in-law, E.P. Booze, went to New York and other places in 1917 soliciting money for a new school. The Board of Trustees floated bonds in the amount of $115,000, erected a three-story brick structure, and all the public schools in the vicinity of Mound Bayou and the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Instituted consolidated in 1920, to form the "Mound Bayou Consolidated Public School and County Training School." Located on the four-acre tract that had been donated by Montgomery and Green in 1892, the first classes started in 1921. The school was administered by a local board of trustees responsible to the County Superintendent of Education. This first board of trustees consisted of I.T. Montgomery, chairman, B.W. Byran and John W. Francis. The second board of trustees of BCTS were B.A. Green, chairman, D.J. Hill, T.S. Morris, John Tharpe, Sr., Rev. Jim Jones and P.M. Smith.

The school served an area of thirty square miles, although students came from as far away as Vicksburg to take advantage of the schooling offered here. For a number of years, the only high school for Blacks in Bolivar County, it had sixteen classrooms and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 700. The average annual enrollment was 850. Classes were held 9 months a year. The first principal was Professor J.H. Moseley who was succeeded by Professor J.H. Powell in 1926. Both men were graduates of Alcorn A.&M. College. Powell was succeeded by Professor A.R. Taylor in 1934. Principals since Taylor have been: C. M. Green, Olevia Holmes-Ryles, Richard Williams, Mrs. Richard Williams, Rev. Hardin, and B.T. Johnson. Mrs. Holmes-Ryles carried out the term of C.M. Green, and Mrs. E. Williams carried out the term of her husband, Richard Williams who was the victim of an accidental drowning, even more tragic because it perhaps may have been attributed to the lack of community recreational facilities available at that time.

"Bolivar County Training School has built a bridge that many people have crossed, and Mound Bayou is still a place where the future begin for those who prepare for it." Mrs. Ola C. Gray

Supreme Court Rules Segregated Schools Unconstitutional

Following the 1954 decision, a county reorganization created a sixth school in the county, and Professor C. J. Jones became the first Bolivar County District 6 Superintendent. Since C.J. Jones, there have been Arthur Holmes, Langdom, and William Crockett, and others.

Public school principals since B.T. Johnson, the last under the name B.C.T.S., have included Ruth Scott, O.W. Howard, Samuel McGee, Arthur Jackson, Arthur Holmes, and Legora P. Mitchell Norwood, the present, all for the I.T. Montgomery Elementary School. For the High Schools they have been G.G. Young, A.L. Moore, Willie Gates, L.T. Lambert, and Robert Latham, as of this writing.

Other Schools In Our Past

Campbell "College"

A school established about two and a half miles to the East of Mound Bayou with Rev. T.S.J. Pendleton as its president in 1926. Some of the students were Nancy and Willye Vence, Beatrice Daniel, Willie Lee Norwood, and Earnestine Reed. Some of the teachers were Lavada Dixon and Ethel Clegg. The "college" operated for about 3 or 4 years. Rev. Pendleton was also Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Mound Bayou. "College" was a misnomer, although it was located on lands belonging to the A.M.E. Campbell College, located at that time in Jackson, Mississippi. A building program was started on this land in more recent years in an effort to locate Campbell College here, but the project had to be abandoned due to financial difficulties. A two-story and a one-story concrete foundation can be seen today on the remaining property owned by the A.M.E. Church.

Henrietta Clegg School

Henrietta Clegg held a prominent position in Mound Bayou's educational and cultural Heritage for generations. Henrietta started her legacy in 1914 when she began offering private music instruction to rural students of the Mound Bayou area. In 1915, she moved back to Mound Bayou from the rural area and started music classes in town. Her school grew during those early years until the Clegg School became a Mound Bayou tradition of cultural enrichment. Mrs. Clegg continued her school until the decade of the seventies. Her last pupils were Cora Lee Darling and a Brinson child. She gave some private music lessons as late as 1977, when an illness necessitated her retirement. She spent her remaining years staying with a daughter in Chicago, Synorvia Moore in Chicago, and alternatively with a daughter, Dorothy Micou in Mound Bayou. When she died, she held the distention of being the longest resident of Mound Bayou and the last person to have been pictured in A.P. Hood's 1909, The Negro At Mound Bayou.

The Opportunity Center Kindergarten

Founded by Beatrice O. Felder October 19, 1932, it was a private school receiving its revenues from tuitions. Ms. Felder's students gave numerous cultural performances, and provided them with a good foundation for their public school years, as most of Mound Bayou's private schools.

Turner Kindergarten

This private kindergarten school was in operation from 1962 to 1966, and was owned and operated by Mrs. Alla Fair Pace Turner at Mound Bayou. Some of the youngsters that attended her school have since made outstanding achievements in development after receiving their educational foundation at this school.

The Royster Private School

Significant Roles in Education

Tabor's Role

Moses Dickson organized a secret society of twelve men in Missouri in 1846, known as the Knights of Liberty and Knights of Tabor. After the Civil War, in Missouri, he organized the International Order of the Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor, as a memorial to the twelve men who had silently enlisted over 47,000 men to prepare to fight for the freedom of bondsmen of the African race. It was his design that the organization would, among other thing, encourage education.

On March 13, 1889, at Clarksdale, Coahoma County, Mississippi, less than two years following the arrival of the first settlers at Mound Bayou, the I.O.T. Knights & Daughters of Tabor, Mississippi Jurisdiction was duly organized and chartered. There were about 500 members grouped into forty units. During the administration of Sir. R. D. Smith, between 1893 and 1909, saw the erection of the Taborian Home and School at Renova, Mississippi.

During the administration of Sir. Perry Monroe Smith, the Achievements and Awards Program was instituted, to help young people with their college careers.

In 1952, the Annual Oratorical Scholarship Contest began, increasing from $150 to $1,050 by 1964. Under the present administration of Rev. Kemper H. Smith, it was increased to $1,500 in 1974. During the 44 year period between 1935-1979, 110 young people had been awarded $28,500 to assist with their college careers.

After the Taborian Hospital opened its doors February 12, 1942, Meharry Medical College played a major role in providing a training ground for medical care at Taborian Hospital.

Delta Health Center, Inc. Roles in Education

Maintenance of good health is not only the result of providing quality service but also providing health education and advocacy. DHC believes that service area residents can be responsible for their health care and that education of their patients toward this objective is their fundamental duty. DHC has been providing improved Child Health program education for children and pregnant women, and health education and outreach activities to the community including sex education seminars to schools and other community groups.

Mound Bayou Churches Play an Educational Role

Bolivar County Baptist Seminary

One of the primary objectives of the seminary has been the training of ministers, lay workers, missionaries, teachers, deacons, Sunday School superintendents, and leaders for young people's groups. Erected under the administration of Rev. H. C. Cherry, of Benoit, Mississippi, with the backing of a Baptist Laymen Movement, headed by Mr. C. L. Gibson, Sr., a prominent Mound Bayou merchant. Working with Mr. Gibson in the intensified campaign to initiate the building program for the seminary were Messrs. Lee Harris, co-chairman, C. J. Mitchell, Sammie Mitchell, Ross Mitchell, Dudley Hill, J. B. Butler, B. T. Hayes, P.M. Smith, Wade Bell, Dr. P. M. George, Osby Mason, Sam Sterling, M. C. McCoy, Mayor B. A. Green, Will Bailey, Frederick Miller, Prof. I. C. Roberts, along with a number of white business and professional leaders of Bolivar County. The Seminary became a center of a number of civic and cultural activities.

Religious Life Important Fabric

In addition to education, religion has occupied an important place in the life of the citizens.

Early in 1888, the settlers had erected a brush harbor under which community services were held. The entire church-going population worshiped together and shared in common "Holy Communication" until 1891 when Green Grove Baptist Church was erected with contributions received from all faiths. This edifice served as the community church until 1895, when inhabitants once again united with a common purpose and erected Bethel A.M. E. Church.

Among the early settlers responsible for the founding of the Green Grove Baptist Church were Mrs. Sallie Ramsey, Mrs. Matilda Davis, Mrs. Patsey Seals, Mrs. L. T. M. Brooks, Mrs. Elizabeth Fisher, Mrs. Delia Wilbert, Mrs. Mrs. Mary Slate, Mrs. P. R. M. McCarty; Brothers Alex Wilbert, Cal Ramsey, Mack Slate, George Kincaid, Ridley Walker, Jackson Washington, Mark Anderson, W. J. Lewis, Lenor Wibert and J. D. Strong.

Pastors have been:

It was under the leadership of Rev. Cosey that Green Grove Baptist Church changed its name to First Baptist Church and that a brick building was erected at a cost of $10,000. (Reported to be one of the first brick churches to be built in Bolivar County.) Rev. Jordan, youngest in the line of pastors, had the responsibility of erecting at the historic site of the old church building on the west side of the Illinois Central Railroad tracts a modern sanctuary at a cost of $118.000. A Ground Breaking Ceremony was held September 17, 1961, construction began in 1962 and completed in 1964. A dedication Program Sunday, April 20, 1969, Rev. Perry A. Smith, III. delivered the Dedication Sermon, and a Mortgage Burning Ceremony was held on January 31, 1982.

First Brick Church in Bolivar County

Early in 1888 the settlers had erected a brush harbor under which community services were held. In 1891 Green Grove Baptist Church was erected. Rev. A. A. Cosey, distinguished leader in state and national religious circles, and as Chief Grand Mentor of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, was the eight pastor. It was under the ministerial leadership of Dr. Cosey that Green Grove Baptist Church changed its name to First Baptist and that a brick building was erected at a cost of $10,000.00. (This was reported to be the first brick Church in Bolivar County.)

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