Citation
The All-Black town movement

Material Information

Title:
The All-Black town movement a case study of Mound Bayou, Mississippi
Portion of title:
Case study of Mound Bayou, Mississippi
Creator:
Green, Dennis Lee
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
vii, 123 leaves : ; 29 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of Social Science)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Social sciences
Committee Chair:
Morris, Glenn
Committee Members:
Glenn, Cecil
White, C. J.

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Black nationalism -- History -- Mississippi ( lcsh )
Black nationalism ( fast )
Mound Bayou (Miss.) ( lcsh )
Mississippi ( fast )
Mississippi -- Mound Bayou ( fast )
Genre:
History. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
History ( fast )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 121-123).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Social Science.
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Dennis Lee Green.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
34578672 ( OCLC )
ocm34578672
Classification:
LD1190.L65 1995m .G74 ( lcc )

Full Text
THE ALL-BLACK TOWN MOVEMENT
A CASE STUDY OF MOUND BAYOU, MISSISSIPPI
by
Dennis Lee Green
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
1995


This thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Dennis Lee Green
has been approved
by
/?X5~
Date


Green, Dennis Lee (M.S.S., Social Science)
The All-Black Town Movement: A Case Study of Mound
Bayou, Mississippi
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Glenn Morris
ABSTRACT
The all-Black town movement that emerged in the late
1800's was seen as a phenomenon in itself and burst forth
in the form of names such as Nicodemus, Kansas; Langston
City, Oklahoma; and Mound Bayou, Mississippi. From the
earliest period of arrival in America, Black Americans
pursued the idea of obtaining a respectful position in
the American society, a difficult endeavor to master as
they were made to feel the full force of American racism
at every turn. Several tactics such as exodus to other
countries and confrontation within the legal system were
employed in an effort to taste freedom. Positive results
were slow in coming and failed to catch the full atten-
tion of the masses of people, thus, many turned to an-
other method which turned out to be the least known, that
of the all-Black town or self-segregation inside the
United States.
The town of Mound Bayou is the main focus of the
research project with the case study approach being the
primary methodology. The research was conducted using
primary and secondary sources in addition to material in
iii


the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The
approach presented value over other methods in that it
allowed for a more detailed and extensive examination of
the vital aspects of the town of Mound Bayou. The all-
Black town movement was never truly a voluntary measure,
but rather a solid reaction to racism and warrants study
into the adaptive measures employed in order for the town
to survive.
The research focused oh three aspects of Mound
Bayou: the town as an example of Black nationalism; the
town as an opportunity to analyze the elements of Black
organizational processes; and the town as an example of
race relations in the United States. These three aspects
were chosen because of the well-defined ideology formula-
ted in an attempt to bring about racial pride, unity, and
a platform of economic self-sufficiency.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
iv


DEDICATION
Embracing the Creator and the spirit of the ancestors,
this thesis is dedicated to the memory of my parents,
Macy Green and Maxie M. Green Sr.; grandmother, Parnese
Lowery; uncles, Henry Green and George Scurry; aunts,
Mildred Green and Josephine Scurry; and my nephew,
Robert L. Frazier Jr.


CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.......................................vii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION..................................1
The Purpose of the Study.....................3
Scope of the Study...........................4
Data Limitation...........................5
Arrangements of the Thesis...................6
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Findings of the Study as Related to
the Findings of Early Researchers............7
3. THE TOWN OF MOUND BAYOU.......................12
The Early Years.............................12
Years of Development........................16
Image, Ideology, and Town Politics.......17
Economic and Business Endeavors..........36
4. THE STRUGGLE..................................49
Formulation of the Dream.................49
Isaiah T. Montgomery: Man in the Middle..77
The Booker T. Washington Factor..........91
5. THE DECLINE.................................98
6. CONCLUSION..................................105
APPENDIX...............................................117
BIBLIOGRAPHY...........................................121
vi


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Much love and appreciation is owed to my wife-for-life,
Mary Green, and my daughters, Lisa, Niecy, and Zuton, for
their continuous display of love and for being nothing
less than the greatest supportive family members one
could possibly have.
Tremendous gratitude goes out to my mentor, Dr. C.J.
White, not only for always being there for me when
support and guidance were needed, but also for always
refusing to compromise in the study and teaching of
African American Studies.
Special thanks to Dr. Glenn Morris and Dr. Cecil Glenn
for constantly encouraging me to set my standards
high, supporting me in my quest to research the subject
I desired, and seeing my project through to the end.
Appreciation is also owed to my sister, Mrs Dorothy
Ingram, her husband Sinclair, my brother Maxie Green Jr.
and his wife Liz for rendering outstanding guidance
during my formulative years. Thanks also to Sherdina,
Sherbrina, Candace, Velda, Eddie, Junnie, and other
family members and friends for rendering support.
Love to you all.
vii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Founded in 1887 by a group of ex-slaves, Mound Bayou
rose to become one of the most recognized names among the
all-Black town movement that arose in the late 1800's.
The idea for the town, initially conceived in the days of
horror of the slavery experience, was modified to take on
an even greater meaning for the Black settlers. The on-
going search for a taste of dignity resulted in a brief
success in the form of Mound Bayou.
The problem for Blacks consisted of trying to be a
people with dark skin and distinct cultural patterns
living in a society in which "American" was synonymous
with "White." Racial discrimination against Africans was
enforced through local and state laws, and even through
the Constitution of the United States. In spite of the
vicious slavery experience and endless battles with pre-
judice and discriminatory acts, the majority of Blacks
, that lived during the postbellum period looked to America
as home.
Many opinions surfaced as to what should be the best
strategy for the Blacks to employ in their mission for
human equality. Some favored concentration on the polit-
ical arena, some felt that economic self-sufficiency pro-
1


grams were the answer, some took to employing methods of
hard-line approach to social injustice whenever found,
and others fled to faraway places such as Canada and
Africa. Many found themselves gravitating from one plat-
form to another in quest for deliverance from the insti-
tutionalized racism around them. The idea that indivi-
duals should just have faith and wait for conditions to
get better didn't gain much popularity because the level
of violence seemed to increase as the legal noose got
tighter around the necks of Blacks. Desperation demanded
viable alternatives.
One idea that surfaced was self-segregation within
the United States, not an overwhelmingly popular idea,
but one which grew in reaction to the severe racist prac-
tices directed against the Black race. Many of the
groups seeking isolation were ex-slaves who had little
education, were small in number, and seemed to pose no
immediate threat to whites, thus at times they were ig-
nored by whites depending on the geographical location.
The Black town movement reached its peak in the fifty
years following the Civil War and records reveal that at
least sixty Black communities were established between
1865 and 1915 (Williamson, 1971).
The town of Mound Bayou has a background linked to
slavery and therefore offers the opportunity to determine
2


whether organizational skills that were developed were
mere imitations from former slavemasters or were unique
in character. Mound Bayou, Mississippi became the most
prominent of all the Black towns during the time period
due in part to its relationship with the famous Booker T.
Washington and Tuskegee Institute.
The Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study is to examine the histor-
ical development and specific factors that determined the
elements of success and failure that the town of Mound
Bayou experienced during the time period 1887-1924.
Within that context the town will be examined as an ex-
ample of Black nationalism, the town's organizational
processes will be examined, and the town will be examined
as an example of race relations in the United States.
One of many attempts at the creation of all-Black
communities, Mound Bayou was started by a colony of ex-
slaves and put forth an effort at creating a separate
"nation" within the United States. It was important to
fashion a way of life that was in agreement with their
particular ideas of life itself. Organized around the
general themes of solidarity and economic self-help, the
concept of "Blacks working for the good of Blacks"
instilled racial pride in the members and in an attempt
3


to stay away from the dominant culture, individuals
attempted to have communication with whites reduced to
the bare minimum possible.
With Mound Bayou being an all-Black community, the
study of the organizational processes in relation to com-
munity development becomes an issue of interest as a oc-
currence taking place due to evolving social relation-
ships. The processes stand out due to the unique situa-
tion of the town in its dealings with constant struggles
against outside influences to maintain a community with a
unique racial identity.
Mound Bayou stood out as an all-Black town in an
dominant white society and therefore is showcased as an
excellent example of race relations in the United States
during the time frame of this study. Clearly a reaction
to racism, the study of Mound Bayou reveals the complex
dealings involved in Black attempts at participation in
the dominant white society.
Scope of the Study
The study consists of research of the time period of
post-Civil War to the early 1900's. The historical ele-
ment is the primary focus rather than the contemporary
status of Mound Bayou. This time period encompasses the
development of the town from the founding days until the
4


death of Isaiah Montgomery in 1924. The period chosen in
no way is meant to imply that Mound Bayou ceased to exist
beyond this period, but rather that the heyday thrust of
the all-Black town movement had lost steam and was coming
to an end. Although the research on Mound Bayou is
viewed within the context of the all-Black town movement
of the late 1880's to early 1900's, the study is by no
means a comparison of Mound Bayou with other all-Black
towns during the same time period.
Data Limitation
The study falls under the boundary of the case study
method. This method presents a complete and detailed
record of an event, group, or social process. The data
presented in this study brings forth a complete and de-
tailed record of the history of the unique social process
which became Mound Bayou. The reconstruction of the de-
velopment is accomplished through the use of primary and
secondary existing sources, including material from the
Mississippi Department of Archives and History. With the
purpose of the study being to investigate the historical
development and socio-political climate surrounding spe-
cific factors of success and failure as they relate to
Mound Bayou, the study Operates within the context of the
gathering of qualitative data rather than quantitative
5


data. Moreover, the inner working of the Black society
of early Mound Bayou can only be studied and analyzed in
the context of the available primary and secondary quali-
tative data sources.
Arrangements of the Thesis
The study is arranged under six major headings:
Introduction; Review of the Literature; The Town of Mound
Bayou; The Struggle; The Decline; and Conclusion.
Covered within the section Introduction are: Purpose of
the Study, Scope of the study, and Data Limitation. The
Review of the Literature follows. The Town of Mound
Bayou places emphasis on the early years, years of devel-
opment, ideas regarding Image, Ideology, and Town Poli-
tics, and Economic and Business Endeavors. The Struggle
covers Formulation of the Dream, Isaiah T. Montgomery:
Man in the Middle, and the Booker T. Washington Factor.
Following is The Decline, and the Conclusion which will
present a summary of the critical issues as presented in
the study and discuss the implications of the study to
the field of the social sciences.
6


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Major studies on the town of Mound Bayou ultimately
look to the works of four scholars, Mound Bavou. Missis-
sippi; The Growth of an Idea. 1865-1924 by Stephen A.
Williamson (1971); The Black Towns by Norman L. Crockett
(1979); The Pursuit of a Dream by Janet S. Hermann
(1981); Black Towns and Profit. Promotion and Development
in the Trans-Appalachian West. 1877-1915 by Kenneth M.
Hamilton (1991).
Williamson's work is a senior independent study
paper which employs a historical approach in looking at
the time period of 1865-1924 in the life of Mound Bayou.
The paper is divided into four chapters: Introduction,
The Development of the Idea, The Institutionalization of
the Idea, and Black Town in White Society.
Crockett's book features Mound Bayou within the con-
text of the Black town movement, looking at the develop-
ment of Mound Bayou, Nicodemus, Kansas (1879), Langston,
Oklahoma (1891), Clearview, Oklahoma (1903), and Boley,
Oklahoma (1904) The five were chosen as being represen-
tative of the typical picture of Black town life in other
communities which featured similar size and type during
the same time period. The book covers the formation,
7


growth, and failures of each community and is divided
into five chapters: Promoters and Settlers, Image and
Ideology, Politics and Discrimination, Economy and
Society, and Frustration and Failure.
Hermann's book features Mound Bayou within the con-
text of providing readers the complete background story
of the attempts by the Davis family to create a model
plantation colony. Beginning with the idea as formulated
by the family, the book presents a look at the continua-
tion of the modified idea by the Montgomery family which
ultimately led to the creation of Mound Bayou. The book
is divided into four chapters: Joseph Davis Has A Dream,
Federal Officers Usurp The Dream, Benjamin Montgomery
Seeks To Implement The Dream, and Isaiah Montgomery
Revives The Dream.
Hamilton's book looms as the newest contribution to
the literature in the same manner as Crockett, looking at
the development of five Black towns: Mound Bayou; Nicode-
mus, Kansas; Langston, Oklahoma; Boley, Oklahoma; and
Allensworth, California. The book looks at economic mo-
tives as the key elements for the founding of the towns
and is divided into five chapters, each of which focuses
on a Black town.
The beginning months for settlers of Mound Bayou
were certainly anything but times of comfort. The un-
8


settled area had to be cleared and settlers had to be
persuaded to become a part of the historical moment.
Town boosters used themes of racial pride as a drawing
card. Williamson, Crockett, and Hermann look at the
racial atmosphere in the state of Mississippi as a major
reason Mound Bayou looked attractive to many, Williamson
and Crockett to a certain extent leaning more in the di-
rection than that of Hermann. To Hamilton, the early
leaders of the town plus the active boosters were merely
entrepreneurs looking for a way to increase personal
wealth, and the "race angle" was the perfect boost to the
scheme.
Research shows that Isaiah Montgomery used "selec-
tive recruiting" practices to get a certain type of
people to migrate to Mound Bayou, looking for those la-
beled as ambitious, hard-working, and possessing the po-
tential to be upwardly mobile. To Williamson and Croc-
kett, this ensured that the first group of settlers would
have the resources in place to be able to survive the
first few years of adjustment and therefore be in posi-
tion to be a positive contribution to the development of
the town. Hermann on the other hand views the methods as
being practices that Isaiah had learned from the early
days of Davis Bend when he was a favored son of the Davis
family. To Hamilton, the recruitment methods were noth-
9


ing more than part of a plan to appeal to upwardly mobile
Blacks to increase the odds of achieving financial secur-
ity.
Williamson and Crockett largely viewed Isaiah Mont-
gomery's dealing with whites as an example of "accommoda-
tionist politics" and amazingly, somewhat difficult to
figure out. Hamilton once again uses the economic angle
and chooses to see the matter as an extension of the
period when Montgomery was at Davis Bend with his family,
negotiating with whites, and enjoying a substantial meas-
ure of financial success. Hermann, who seeks to portray
the Davis family with a bit of reverence, views the sta-
tus as part of the wonderful legacy allegedly instilled
into Montgomery and his family members.
Stephen A. Williamson covers the most aspects of the
entire development phase of Mound Bayou in his attempt to
cover the period from 1865-1924. Norman L. Crockett
renders the reader a nice brief overview of five Black
towns which allows the opportunity to compare the devel-
opment of each. Janet S. Hermann's work is brief in the
coverage of Mound Bayou, understandably since her main
focus is on highlighting the Davis family and innovative
approaches to the system of slavery. Kenneth M. Hamil-
ton's work is thorough from an economic aspect as he
gives an extensive account of every financial endeavor
10


associated with the five Black towns that he covers.
ll


CHAPTER 3
THE TOWN OF MOUND BAYOU
The Early Years
In the spring of 1886 within the state of Missis-
sippi at a point situated midway between Memphis, Tenne-
ssee and Vicksburg, Mississippi, a historical event was
unfolding. An ex-slave named Isaiah T. Montgomery was in
the process of choosing a site that would be the home for
his idea of an all-Black town, fifteen miles east of the
mighty Mississippi River. According to Norman Crockett
in his book The Black Towns, two bayous converged at the
center point which also featured an Indian burial mound,
inspiring Isaiah to name the new settlement Mound Bayou
(Crockett, 1979).
The original group of settlers in the fall of 1887
consisted of Isaiah, his wife Martha, a cousin Benjamin
T. Green, and seven other companions. Isaiah was suc-
cessful not only in persuading the group to join him but
additionally in purchasing 840 acres of land. While
there was plenty of excitement in the air, hard work was
the order at hand as the chosen land was in a heavily
timbered area. In addition, the work was done exclusive-
ly by the husbands because families were left behind in
other areas. According to Maurice E. Jackson in the M.A.
12


thesis, Mound Bayou: A Study in Social Development, the
only means of moving through the area was by way of hat-
chet or machete and in addition to dreadful diseases such
as swamp-fever, wild animals were in abundance (Jackson,
1937). The clearing work was very difficult and tedious
but was very necessary, serving as an enticement to re-
cruit more settlers. Enough lumber was cut and stacked
to build a large number of houses, all accomplished with
the help of a crude sawmill (Crockett, 1979).
In early 1888, the first group arrived to formally
settle in the site of Mound Bayou. With the difficult
clearing work, wild animals, disease, and racism in the
bordering areas, life was far from being anything but
difficult. Conflicting evidence exists as to the actual
number of original settlers Montgomery was able to at-
tract to the site. Of individuals purchasing land in
1887 or early 1888, twenty-seven were identified in the
railroad sales books as being Black. Isaiah himself
declared that there were thirty to forty families in
residence. Still other sources suggested that the
community ranged from forty to sixty families (Will-
iamson, 1971). Regardless, the first group was no more
than a small band of settlers attempting to tame the
cruel conditions of the Delta wilderness without much
help from the rest of the world.
13


Many homes, although crude in appearance, were fash-
ioned from the timber that had been cut from the surroun-
ding forests. Many of the settlers were poor and unem-
ployed and hired themselves out to Montgomery and Green
working to clear additional land. Money could also be
made cutting railroad ties to supply the railroad which
was expanding through the region. This market was sorely
needed in other areas to tend to building needs and in-
deed appeared to be endless as the numerous agents repre-
senting the timber business expressed the desire to buy
all of the Cyprus, oak, and ash that the settlers could
produce (Hamilton, 1991). The timber market enabled the
community to establish some level of economic stability,
while simultaneously clearing areas to be used for culti-
vating crops. In spite of the benefits of the timber
harvest, life was still difficult and it became necessary
to try to survive by a variety of means. Many indivi-
duals worked under the sharecropping system on one of the
big plantations five miles to the north near Shelby,
Mississippi, while their wives and children worked else-
where as domestics (Williamson, 1971). Life remained
harsh and difficult, and some of the settlers pulled up
stakes and journeyed elsewhere. At the end of the first
five years the severity of the life was clearly revealed
as most of the settlers were deeply in debt. Cotton was
14


the king crop in the area and during the cotton chopping
or picking season, most of the women and children had to
journey to nearby plantations to work for white farmers
while the men remained in the home area making money by
clearing land and rolling logs. Wages were low and the
forests proved to be a blessing in disguise with the
numerous animals such as deer, bear, and raccoon serving
as a source of meat for the skilled Black hunters.
In spite of the difficulties, many individuals had
no idea of leaving the area. To them, life inside of the
Black community provided them with a safe haven from the
racist practices they faced in other areas. In addition,
Mound Bayou indeed represented the only place that Blacks
were treated in a respectful manner.
Montgomery offered the land in forty acre tracts for
eight and nine dollars per acre, additionally in some
cases requiring a forty dollar entrance fee into the com-
munity (Williamson, 1971). He worked tirelessly to add
more to the population, actively recruiting in other
states with the intensity of a modern day sports agent in
hot pursuit of the blue-chip star athlete. The popula-
tion was poor and proved to be hard to increase, no doubt
due in part to the relatively high entrance fee require-
ment. While active recruitment was first and foremost on
Montgomery's mind, the true focus was on selective re-
15


cruitment. Booker T. Washington claimed that Montgomery
recruited throughout many states including Tennessee,
Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, seeking out
those who were full of ambition and the drive to succeed.
The task surely wasn't easy but in appealing to racial
pride and simple logic, put forth his ideology:
I told them much of it was wild land,
and they would find woods to clear,
but that they might as well buy land
and own it, and do for themselves
what they had been doing for other
folks for 250 years.
(Hermann, 1981, pg 222)
Years of Development
Three months after the founding days, Isaiah Mont-
gomery managed to persuade the Post Office officials to
allow him to open up a branch office in Mound Bayou,
which was initially located in the Montgomery home.
Though not much more than a soapbox with a few partitions
within, to the Black pioneers it represented a tremendous
source of pride. A sawmill was purchased, and the first
gin was erected. School sessions were held in the Mont-
gomery home and the Greengrove Baptist Church was founded
in the home of another settler (Williamson, 1971). Fur-
ther example of the importance of the Montgomery family
and Ben Green came with their opening of a small supply
store in March of 1888, a sorely needed item which fur-
16


nished most of the material needs of the colony. Train
tickets could also be purchased at the store. In the
midst of mind-boggling difficulties, the first three
years for the colony produced $8,780 from timber sales.
In addition, they produced 655 acres of cleared land
which yielded 379 bales of cotton and 3,045 bushels of
corn (Hamilton, 1991). The wilderness area was being
tamed, other colonists were beginning to settle in the
area, and Mound Bayou was starting to assert itself in
becoming the next independent community.
Image. Ideology, and Town Politics
Of the original group of forty-plus that settled
Mound Bayou, over half were from Mississippi (Crockett,
1979). Isaiah Montgomery did hold the majority of the
political and social power in the early days, but with
further development in the town came individuals who
were more economically prosperous than the masses, and
they began to exert leadership in many areas.
The two most noticeable characteristics that the
early settlers shared were skin color and poverty situ-
ation. However, other unifying elements were also pre-
sent, including strong kinship ties that accompanied
large families who had been persuaded to move to Mound
Bayou. This element served to keep in place a strong
17


sense of group solidarity, which in turn, helped to keep
conflict at a minimum. Another shared feature of the
town was that a large majority of the residents lived
inside the town limits but had to earn their living out-
the town, just as had the original founders (Williamson,
1971). Due to the lack of capital, absence of a wide
variety of skills, inadequate farm machinery and racial
prejudice in the form of terrorist acts, the Blacks in
the town suffered deprivations generally unknown to the
typical white settler.
Leisure time was generally frowned upon by the lead-
ers of the town. It was felt that a strong work ethic
was extremely important to the overall economic success
of the town. Therefore it was deemed the responsibility
of adults to set good examples for the young to follow.
The attitude toward drinking intoxicants varied from
town to town. However the sale of liquor was illegal in
Bolivar County, Mississippi, therefore no open opposition
from the residents was directed toward the leaders of the
town when they banned liquor from Mound Bayou (Crockett,
1979). When an election was held to reconsider the is-
sue, voters rejected the measure, heeding the warning of
Isaiah Montgomery who felt that alcohol attracted unde-
sirable whites into the community.
Very little violence occurred in the town of Mound
18


Bayou and spokesmen remarked that the few incidents that
did take place were late at night, on weekends, or when-
ever outsiders entered the community. Most of the re-
ported crime or violence centered around the typical
fights between men, public drunkenness, failure to con-
fine animals, minor theft from households and businesses,
running horses and driving buggies at high speeds and
other incidents that were common to rural communities
(Crockett, 1979). In 1907, the leaders of the town
claimed that during the first twenty years of its char-
tered existence only three people from the town had been
bound over to circuit court for trial. Of the 163 crimi-
nal cases in the previous ten year period, sixty-four
were for disturbing the peace and twenty-eight involved
trivial offenses that never even made it to trial. A
1912 advertising brochure declared that since the found-
ing of Mound Bayou there had never been a case of rape in
the community and only one homicide (Crockett, 1979).
It is difficult to tell just what level of crime and
violence did occur. On one hand Black claims suggested
that very little violence occurred, while the other
neighboring white towns declared that serious crimes
occurred every day (Crockett, 1979). Town leaders such
as Isaiah Montgomery were very powerful and constantly
were emphasizing that the enemy of moral integrity was
19


anti-social behavior which, in turn, projected a negative
image to whites, thereby jeopardizing the future of all
Blacks. From one angle, it would have been easier for
Black towns to control their populations better than
other towns through the operation of peer pressure and
social stigma Black criminals were viewed as not only
engaging in anti-social behavior, but had also betrayed
their race (Crockett, 1979).
The early colonists weire deeply concerned about cre-
ating sustainable institutions for future generations to
build upon. They constantly stressed racial pride, fully
aware of the atmosphere of negative self-esteem that ex-
isted all around them. In 1910, J. W. Covington served
as the editor of the town newspaper and he offered his
opinion of the protective ideology:
What chance has the negro boy or
negro girl who lives in the "nig-
ger quarters" of the cities? They
soon learn to think that they can
never amount to anything, and to
despise their race, no matter how
hard they work or how moral they
may be. The girls become prosti-
tutes and the boys gamblers or
vicious idlers at the age when the
white children are in school,
through the idea that they are
"only niggers" and that what they
do or what they say don't count
for anything. We're trying here
to saturate them with a realiza-
tion of the fact that the thrifty,
intelligent, well-behaved negro
does count.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 112)
20


Many individuals owned property and for some this
was a first time venture. Even for those not owning
property, within the confines of the all-Black environ-
ment they were able to enjoy a type of economic freedom
not available to them elsewhere (Crockett, 1979). In
addition, because of Montgomery's "selective recruitment"
methods there was not a large property-less, lower class
element present which would have been totally exploited
economically by whites. This probably served as an addi-
tional factor in keeping crime rates low as such a group,
out of frustration, might have been prone to property
crimes.
Montgomery and other town leaders preached to town
inhabitants that their opportunities for upward mobility
were linked to the overall success of the town, thus,
most of the community members seemed willing to support
punishment against behavior perceived as threatening to
their newfound status (Crockett, 1979). People consid-
ered undesirable or those who refused to work or to be
employed in some meaningful fashion were given the choice
of reforming or being shown a hasty exit from the town
limits. Additionally, the assumed need of the Black man
to rely on whites was soundly rejected as put forth in
this early ideological statement:
It has been charged that removed from
under the immediate restraint of the
21


white governing hand we start on the
path of retrogression.... Any consid-
erable number of Negroes left entirely
to themselves, it was said, would
inevitably drift in the direction of
their own mutual self-debasement and
destruction. Mound Bayou stands for
the first move of any considerable
proportions made with a view to ascer-
taining by concrete experiment just
what was to be the effect......left
absolutely free to do as they willed,
and subject only and amenable alone
to the law of the commonwealth.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 110)
Leaders of the town, like those of most other Black
towns felt that acceptance into the overall American so-
ciety would eventually come, albeit very slowly, and it
was a feature that would have to be earned by hard work.
In the meantime, the perilous situation could only be
made easier if Blacks acquired property and a reputation
that was highly admirable, almost to the point of sur-
passing that of the white population (Crockett, 1979).
Moral uplift was seen as the core foundation upon which
to build. Property ownership was seen to provide the
holder as well as the Black race with items very hard for
a Black to come by in the state of Mississippi during the
time period: much needed stability and dignity, and some
level of social equality.
The twin elements of stability and dignity paved the
way for a degree of political, economic, and social stat-
us which in turn set excellent examples for the young.
22


This was an area that carried almost a spiritual compo-
nent to it. Following biblical tradition, discipline was
strictly practiced at home and at school, and topics such
as punctuality, thoroughness, humility and generosity
were stressed because the youth represented the key to
the Black race's climb from degradation to self-
sufficiency. Education was highly valued, but there were
also those in the town that looked down upon "book-
learning" itself, feeling that Blacks had to first "edu-
cate the hands of children" in order that the masses
would have something of value to everyday life (Crockett,
1979). Consequently, education in Mound Bayou was to be
balanced between academics and trade skills. Individuals
who got too liberal an education were sometimes seen as
those who lacked sufficient balance between the intellec-
tual and the practical and would lack the courage to
fight for the good of the race when the time came. First
grade children in Mound Bayou learned among other things,
sewing and basketry because vocational training was seen
as very necessary. Blacksmith shops not only served the
needs of farmers in the area but served as a training
school to instruct youngsters wishing to learn the skill.
It was very difficult to run a school for a nine
month term because parents desperately needed the help of
the children during the planting and harvesting seasons.
23


The town attempted to compete with whites for county
funds but were defeated at every turn through the opera-
tion of stifling and steadfast discrimination in Jim Crow
Mississippi. In 1904, white schools in Bolivar County,
Mississippi, in which Mound Bayou was located, received
seventy-nine percent of all available funds while Blacks
schools received twenty-one percent, even though Black
children far outnumbered the white (Crockett, 1979).
Facing such a situation year after year forced the citi-
zens to finance their own schools and operate only a few
months of the year. In extreme times of desperation it
sometimes became necessary to seek outside help from
white philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and the
Anna T. Jeanes Fund (Crockett, 1979).
Fully realizing the value of education, when Mound
Bayou was planned in the late 1880's, Isaiah Montgomery
and Benjamin Green purposely set aside a portion of land
for the creation of the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial
Institute. An agreement with the American Missionary So-
ciety resulted in the construction of several buildings
on the site and covered much of construction costs.
Classes were offered through the twelfth grade, largely
emphasizing domestic science and agriculture. Local
Black children as well as Black children from neighboring
communities in the Yazoo Delta attended, and by 1912 the
24


school was serving approximately 172 students per year.
The General Baptist Convention helped to bring about the
Mound Bayou Industrial College in 1900, specializing also
in vocational training. A Baptist school was added to
the non-denominational schools in 1904. The school was
founded by Mrs Anna A. Harris and was funded by annual
tuition plus regular fund drives by the Baptist Women
Worker's Union (Hamilton, 1991).
In 1920, all of the public schools in the general
vicinity of Mound Bayou plus the Normal and Industrial
Institute, merged within one structure to form the Mound
Bayou Consolidated Public School and County Training
School. The board of trustees was responsible to the
County Board which was headed by none other than Isaiah
Montgomery. A tremendous source of pride for the town,
the school showcased a brick, two story building with the
latest in building standards. The school held classes
nine months a year, quite a big improvement over previous
endeavors, and featured a curriculum that emphasized
"rural principles almost entirely" (Williamson, 1971).
An article written during the late 1920's claimed that
Mound Bayou had become the educational center of the
Delta, (and within Bolivar County the only Black high
school was located in Mound Bayou) (Williamson, 1971).
Although the majority of the first settlers were
25


Baptists, and the first church founded was Baptist,
denominational conflicts appeared to have cropped up
rather early as Isaiah Montgomery declared in 1893 that
he had "neither time nor patience" for various theolog-
ical conflicts (Williamson, 1971). In 1900 there were
five churches, three of them Baptist. The Baptists
continued to be the dominating element with the A.M.E.
group close behind. Greengrove Baptist Church in 1904
and Bethel A.M.E. in 1905 became the first two churches
to build rather sturdy buildings (Williamson, 1971).
A variety of voluntary associations, in the form of
fraternal orders and secret societies, multiplied rather
quickly in Mound Bayou, and by 1910 twelve of the socie-
ties were in existence. The lodges sponsored many social
functions but their biggest contribution came from their
insurance and burial associations which were able to of-
fer affordable benefits/premiums. Two clubs were founded
to help farmers keep their land by rendering advice on
business aspects of farming, two women's societies were
formed to fashion the moral standards of the community,
and even the ministers of the area formed a union. Most
organizations came together to sponsor the Bolivar County
Negro Fair, a huge celebration that began in 1910 as an
effort to showcase the premier products produced by the
Black race. The organizations also sponsored recreation-
26


al events and helped to set aside areas of land specifi-
cally for recreational activities and other outings
(Williamson, 1971).
Education was a high priority for Montgomery. In
1887 he helped found Campbell College which became affil-
iated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He
became the second president of the college in 1892. This
college held classes in both Vicksburg and Friar's Point
in 1890. While exhibiting a strong faith in education,
Montgomery had hopes of keeping Mound Bayou in the mold
of an agricultural center, shaping other generations to
continue in the tradition set by the older settlers. He
made clear his hopes in a 1907 communication with Booker
T. Washington:
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.
(Washington, 1907, pg 9362)
In keeping with moral uplift and community stabil-
ity, considerable social and legal pressure was exerted
to keep marriages together, separate those living out of
wedlock, and point eligible young people toward matri-
mony. Divorces and unmarried couples living together
received strong disapproval. Consequently, it was rare
not to hear the influential townsfolk preaching to the
27


masses about perceived sins. Local judges who refused to
grant divorces were generally given more support from the
community than those who did not. The influence of local
churches in this matter was highlighted when it was dis-
covered that unmarried couples were living together in
Mound Bayou:
Each church had a committee of from
three to five, who made a house to
house canvass, and found that between
80 to 100 people were living together
without being married. The authorities
announced that in order to quiet titles
to the land, also to observe the laws of
morality, these people must either marry
or stand indictment by the grand jury.
That settled the question. A few people
left the colony, the others married, and
open immorality came to an end.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 105)
The townsfolk seemed to be in agreement with each
other on the issue of dealing with those who exhibited
improper behavior. A visiting reporter in 1910 remarked
that "an undesirable person is requested to leave the
colony, and if he hesitates his going is accelerated!"
(Tong, 1910). The serious nature of the townsfolk was
made very clear by a statement from one of the colony
members indicating that "the Blacks of the area feared
the Mound Bayou court because of the severity of its
penalties" (Williamson, 1971).
The evil counterpart to family structure and racial
uplift was seen as prostitution. Enterprising young
28


ladies would often attempt to visit the town during spe-
cial celebrations, weekends, after cotton picking season
or upon hearing upon the sale of some crops by a gentle-
man. While prostitution and extra or pre-marital rela-
tions were considered bad, sexual relations between a
Black-town woman and a white man was viewed as being the
ultimate evil. Even though whites were usually seen as
the initiators of such instances, the community severely
condemned the Black women who engaged in such behavior
(Crockett, 1979). Black men were very defensive regard-
ing white men who entered their town searching for female
companions and one newspaper in the Black town of Lang-
ston, Oklahoma went so far as to warn white men to "keep
out of our back yard after sun-down" (Crockett, 1979).
During the first few years of settlement, a class
system was hard to detect as servant and worker, master
and mistress worked the same fields and ate and slept in
the same tent or cabin. Time brought on new additions to
the community and the newcomers either came with increa-
sed fortune or were able to work themselves into posi-
tions of prosperity (Williamson, 1971). Distinctions in
wealth and position soon became easily recognized. How-
ever, individuals realized that they needed each other
greatly if they were to survive. Thus, it was possible
for individuals showing ambition and acquisition of
29


property to gain upward mobility.
The individuals who were in the proprietorial and
professional class held the majority of the leadership
positions in the community, and the laborers, artisans,
and small farmers made up the middle class (Crockett,
1979). The banker, as Charles Banks would clearly show
in time, due to the amassing of capital through various
means, usually emerged as the premier citizen in the
town. Training in practical skills was considered to be
important, thus formal education alone was not enough to
gain status. In the final analysis, income, economic
security, and aggressiveness at the business end stood
out as the key elements.
As time went by many of the town leaders become
recognizable by their income, investments, and influence
in addition to the size of their residence and membership
in a particular church. The upper class of Mound Bayou
constructed homes near the periphery of the town away
from the business area. Charles Banks lived in a house
valued at $12,000 and Isaiah Montgomery lived in a well-
shaded, twenty-seven room brick mansion (Crockett, 1979).
Distinctions in regard to color among the Blacks in
Mound Bayou was not an issue in the early days. The com-
munity was described as "a community in which only a few
persons, mostly women, were lighter than medium brown"
30


(Crockett, 1979). Those who engaged in business activ-
ities that brought them into daily contact with whites
had absolutely no reason to boast because they received
no praise or status from the Blacks inside the community.
Indeed, informal directives of the community stressed
total isolation as much as possible from the white popu-
lation outside of Mound Bayou. Things changed to a de-
gree after 1904 when Eugene P. Booze moved to Mound Bayou
and married Mary Montgomery, the daughter of Isaiah Mont-
gomery. Shortly thereafter Isaiah Montgomery was per-
suaded to donate $2,500 and a small tract of land for the
completion of a Episcopal mission. The town already had
four churches. This one however was to be for indivi-
duals with lighter than average skin tones. Only Mary
Montgomery and a few light-skinned Blacks attended the
mission during its very short existence (Crockett, 1979).
Linked to the issue of color was the idea of segre-
gating the races and providing visiting whites with fa-
cilities within the town. Some all-Black towns such as
Boley, Oklahoma offered equal room accommodations and
dining service to all guests, regardless of color. In
Mound Bayou, as a way of helping to keep racial tension
to a minimum, Isaiah Montgomery had whites remaining
overnight in the town put into rooms set aside for the
exclusive use of whites (Williamson, 1971). Rather than
31


having the whites join others at the dining table, meals
were sent to the rooms that the whites occupied. In the
realm of providing a respectful form of treatment to
visiting whites, a positive racial and community image
was put forth. Yet further presence of whites in the
all-Black towns was not felt to be desired or needed by
those in the town as indicated by a newspaper editor in
Boley, Oklahoma who put forth the question "Where do we
need their presence as citizens?" (Crockett, 1979).
In the early years of the town the informal govern-
ment was fashioned by the "founding fathers" Isaiah Mont-
gomery and Ben Green. Although the two did wield a lot
of power, matters concerning the community were settled
by all members of the community. A reporter visiting
Mound Bayou in 1910 felt that the government had a
"communal flavor" to it:
...whenever a question of importance
rises, the town assembles in a body,
and the matter is decided according
to the wishes of the majority. In
all town meetings the women have a
full representation.
(Tong, 1910, pg 397)
As with most small communities, politics revolved
around cliques which battled over services provided,
taxes, cost and use of business licenses, and operation
of public schools. Black town politicians usually tried
to appeal to voters on the basis of past service to the
32


community rather than the accumulation of formal educa-
tion. From its founding to 1914, Mound Bayou's five
mayors were all prominent in business or agriculture
(Crockett, 1979).
Although the partnership between Isaiah Montgomery
and Ben Green dissolved rather early in the development
of the town, it really was nothing more than a clear sig-
nal of inevitable struggles over differing methods to in-
sure Mound Bayou's survival; Both were "men of the soil"
with backgrounds involving the slavery experience. How-
ever, Montgomery seemed willing to cooperate with whites
when necessary while Green, on the other hand seemed less
willing to do so as evidenced by a interview with Green's
son in 1939:
My father didn't know very much about
the principles upon which he was
supposed to act, and he didn't bother
to learn. But he lived according to
certain principles by instinct, and
he lived in harmony with old Mont-
gomery's idealism. Father made a
little money for himself and a little
for Montgomery too. But here's where
they were worlds apart: Father just
didn't like Whites and thought that
both races would get along better
by separation. He used to boast that
after he was free he never lifted an
ax or a hoe for a white man.
(Redding, i942, pg 300)
The town was just an informal community until 1898
when factions within the community begin pushing for in-
corporation. At opposite ends of the issue were the
33


business oriented newcomers and the settled original
landholding colonists. The opposition came from the
angle that incorporation would bring about the loss of
the "pioneer spirit" and most importantly, put the burden
of tax support on the landholders. Those favoring incor-
poration won out and on February 16, 1898 Mound Bayou be-
came an officially incorporated village with 183 regis-
tered voters (Williamson, 1971). Isaiah Montgomery was
appointed mayor by the governor. In addition, one person
was appointed as marshal, one as treasurer, and three as
aldermen, with all of those appointed of the older, orig-
inal settler group. The first election held in 1900
seemed to serve as proof of the growing influence of the
newcomers against that of the original group. Two men
opposed Montgomery for the position of mayor and of the
183 votes he only won by two votes, and a new team was
elected, comprised of original settlers. Montgomery
never ran for mayor again, resigning in 1902 to accept a
political office in Jackson, Mississippi (Hermann, 1981).
In 1908, B.H. Creswell, son of one of the early set-
tlers, had been elected mayor. Initially appointed by
Montgomery in 1906 he was increasingly linked to Charles
Banks, a financial whiz of the newcomer element. Banks
had a successful partnership with Montgomery in 1903, but
became engaged in a bitter feud with Montgomery. At
34


every election, beginning in 1908, Montgomery's son-in-
law, E.P. Booze had opposed Creswell for mayor but was
defeated each time (Williamson, 1971).
The feud between Montgomery and Banks came to a cli-
max in 1916. Creswell, for unknown reasons failed to
hold elections in the fall of 1916 and kept the board of
alderman in place until January 1917. Announcements came
forth that elections would be held in February and at
that time Creswell and his board were re-elected. Gover-
nor Theodore G. Bilbo, responding to a visit by Montgom-
ery himself, appointed a new slate of town officers
headed by E.P. Booze as mayor and Booze immediately
ordered elections to be held in July. Governor Bilbo was
well known for his racist policies. However, Isaiah
Montgomery was held in high esteem as a result of having
been the houseboy of the Davis family (Hamilton, 1991).
Thus, in spite of the world of difference between Mont-
gomery and Bilbo, Isaiah Montgomery was seen as the
"preferred race man" to have in certain positions, and
was therefore able to work out deals behind the scenes in
his favor. Despite the action by the governor, Creswell
refused to vacate his office. The outcome of the elec-
tion is unknown, however it appears that the town oper-
ated under two governments for a period of time. In
1917, an affidavit was filed against Creswell in the
35


Circuit Court and in addition to the old charges, he was
charged with adding to the indebtedness of the town with-
out the authorization of the voters (Williamson, 1971).
In the end Creswell and the Banks faction finally won and
Booze was never officially considered mayor.
Economic and Business Endeavors
Mound Bayou experienced economic fluctuations in the
early days due to the difficulties involved in getting
settled. Until 1895, the number of forty acre tracts
that were either resold to other parties or rebought
greatly outnumbered the number of tracts that were re-
tained by their original owners. However, as the pop-
ulation became settled, the trend was completely reversed
in the time period from 1896-1902 (Williamson, 1971).
Isaiah Montgomery did his part to help in the matter from
all angles as he held flashy celebrations during all hol-
idays, which served to attract new settlers. Within the
waves of immigration after 1895 was a new type of colo-
nist. The core of the early population had largely been
former slaves, however, a 1910 survey of some sixty-seven
biographical sketches of "prominent citizens" in the town
revealed that of the sixty-seven, only twenty-four were
born before the Civil War, thus having slavery exper-
ience. Only five of the twenty-four were educated
36


through college, and sixteen of the twenty-four migrated
to Mound Bayou before 1895. Of the remaining forty-three
people that were born after the war, twenty had some
college experience and over half had migrated to Mound
Bayou after 1895 (Williamson, 1971). The first group was
largely "men of the soil" and the next group could be
considered college educated, business-oriented, and high-
ly ambitious to make money. Additionally, the population
was somewhat stabilized by the waves of new settlers
fleeing violent, racist attacks from an early version of
the Ku Klux Klan in the southern section of the state
from 1893-1895 (Williamson, 1971). Consequently, the
shift in population in the early 1900's was the begin-
ning of the "boom" period for Mound Bayou. The town pop-
ulation was 287 in 1900, and by 1910 had increased to
537. Mound Bayou's northern neighbor, Shelby, listed a
total of 645 for the year 1910 while the southern neigh-
bor, Merigold, had numbers of 241 for 1910. Cleveland
was the county seat, with a population of 479 for 1900
and 1001 for 1910 (Williamson, 1971). Mound Bayou grew
slowly but surely from the beginning to about 1914 when
the population leveled off for the next fifteen years.
The fluctuation in the growth of Mound Bayou can possibly
be explained by recurrent depressions which devastated
the cotton economy during the period 1914 through 1930.
37


Increases in the town population rose steadily from 183
in 1898 to a high of 1500 in 1929, leveling off to 834 in
1930. The surrounding area went from 2,000 in 1900 to
7.000 in 1915, dropping to 2,500 in 1921, then up to
6.000 in 1930 (Williamson, 1971). Comparison of the sta-
tistics of individuals entering the state against those
leaving the state reveals interesting figures. Whites
were always leaving the state faster than they were com-
ing in, although slowing down between 1920 and 1930.
Blacks on the other hand immigrated until the period
1910-1920 when emigration undoubtedly became the major
focus and the numbers nearly quadrupled (Williamson,
1971) .
As previously mentioned, the true beginnings of the
business life in Mound Bayou was put into motion with the
establishment of the small supply store run by Montgom-
ery's wife and Ben Green. The store maintained its sig-
nificance as revealed by the fact that in 1898 it was
only one of three businesses in Mound Bayou. This, in
spite of the fact that Ben Green was killed in 1896 by a
gunshot from a customer over a quarrel relating to five
cents of rivets (Hamilton, 1991).
By 1901 the town was handling over $30,000 worth of
business each year as the number increased to ten stores.
The figure rose to forty stores in 1905, with receipts of
38


$75,000 each year. Steadily increasing, by 1910 Booker
T. Washington was reporting that fifty businesses in
Mound Bayou were producing over $600,000 of business in
one year (Williamson, 1971). Land ownership was always
the key principle of self-sufficiency that all settlers
were urged to practice. Interestingly enough, Black
ownership increased rather rapidly from 1902 to 1913 and
Blacks gained at least over 4,000 acres. The disturbing
trend however, lies in the fact that Black ownership de-
creased by over 2500 acres from 1913 to 1923, largely to
the huge benefit of white planters (Williamson, 1971).
The business increase was clearly tied to the cotton
economy. The early years saw Montgomery and the Green
family directing the flow of the business life in Mound
Bayou and they had a controlling interest of over fifty
percent in 1901. The dominance continued until the small
businesses began to increase in number. Even though many
businesses developed, the dependency factor is clearly
revealed. Businesses described as "cotton-related" were
defined as general supply stores, gins, blacksmiths and
related specialties. The "service-oriented" businesses
include doctors, lawyers, restaurants and related special
services. The ones described as "others" include the
bank, the newspaper, bottling works and other small busi-
nesses. Until 1929, close to fifty percent of the busi-
39


nesses continued a relationship with some aspect of the
cotton business. The dependency factor is not really a
surprising element when one considers that in 1905, Mont-
gomery reported that of the forty-four proprietors in the
town, forty-three of them were landholders (Williamson,
1971).
In 1901, Booker T. Washington called a distinguished
group of businessmen together to form the National Negro
Business League. Demonstrating concern over the total
reliance on the cotton economy, Montgomery told the group
that more capital was needed to develop industrial enter-
prises (Williamson, 1971). The scarcity of capital had
placed the town merchants in a position of disadvantage.
Consequently, in 1910 Montgomery and the other merchants
combined to form the Farmer's Cooperative Mercantile Com-
pany. The purpose of the company was clear:
The very bulk and essence of the
local trade which should logically
come to Mound Bayou, the trade
upon which every town must rely for
support, is deflected from its
reasonable course and sent in direc-
tions from which Mound Bayou can ex-
pect to receive no benefits as a
separate distinct municipality.
This is solely for the lack of ade-
quate accommodation... The situation
demands capital which we don't
have...
(Williamson, 1971, pg 82)
This endeavor attained moderate success until the depres-
sion of 1914 began to take its toll. Montgomery was
40


forced to travel to New York and Chicago in search of
capital, emphatically advancing the message to his aud-
iences that "adequate capital at reasonable interest
rates could not be secured through the customary chan-
nels" (Williamson, 1971). A few years later Montgomery
had his son-in-law E.P. Booze travel to New York to soli-
cit capital for a new school, leading one to conclude
that the ventures were only moderately successful. Fur-
ther evidence of only moderate success was indicated by
Montgomery's trips to Memphis in an effort to secure
loans to purchase seeds. In addition, he was trying to
secure capital for the bank from the Federal Farm Loan
Association. The bank's reserves were down due to large
numbers of loans to farmers and businesses and capital
infusion was sorely needed.
An individual who loomed large and a significant
piece in the economic picture of Mound Bayou was Charles
Banks. Born in 1873, he arrived in the town in 1903, and
undoubtedly fashioned the early commercial success of the
town more than any other person. Educated early in the
public schools he set a blistering educational pace as he
graduated from Rust University and started a business in
Clarksdale, Mississippi, by the age of sixteen (William-
son, 1971). Quite the businessman, his business influ-
ence grew rapidly and he was in attendance at the first
41


meeting of the National Negro Business League, having
made quite an impression on Booker T. Washington. He
held several positions within the organization, even-
tually rising to 1st Vice President in 1907, a position
he held until 1921. Isaiah Montgomery attended all of
the meetings as well and Banks was so impressed with
Montgomery's presentation at the Chicago meeting in 1901
that he arranged to sell his business interests in
Clarksdale and move to Mound Bayou (Hermann, 1981).
Banks solicited the support of a group of prominent
Black Mississippians to serve as the board of directors,
and within a year after arrival had formed the Bank of
Mound Bayou. By 1910 capitalization was raised to
$25,000 after an initial investment of $10,000. Banks'
influence was steadily growing, and he was able to estab-
lish credit with other banks in Memphis, New Orleans and
New York.
Banks organized, and became president of, the Missi-
ssippi Negro Business League and organized an investment
club to assist farm-owners to keep their land. He was
also instrumental in the founding of nine of the eleven
Black banks founded in Mississippi during 1905-1906. He
became the manager of numerous fraternal benefit associ-
ations. He also formed a partnership with John Francis
and purchased huge portions of the town property.
42


John Francis married the widow of Ben Green and
gained an interest in the controlling aspects of the
Green estate (Crockett, 1979). Banks had many develop-
ment plans for the town, however the most ambitious pro-
ject he ever sought to undertake was the construction of
a cottonseed oil mill. In 1907, he proposed the project
to the Mississippi Negro Business League. To insure sup-
port for his proposal he noted that many Blacks were well
acquainted with the operation of a mill and that the suc-
cess of the operation was virtually assured. With hopes
of amassing capital among fellow Blacks after the state
league endorsed the plan, Banks and Montgomery began iss-
uing over 100,000 shares of stock at the rate of $1.00 a
share. The mill was portrayed not only as an all-Black
project but also as the crowning jewel of achievement for
the Black town. Banks remarked to a group of potential
investors in 1910 that the huge project would furnish
employment to hundreds of Black men and women (William-
son, 1971). Individuals were able to raise over $80,000
by 1912 and on November 26, 1912, the project was final-
ized by dedication ceremonies featuring a speech by
Booker T. Washington. The mill project effort repre-
sented for Black people something as important as life
itself.
Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric and Black pride
43


themes, the project encountered immediate difficulty.
First, an additional 40,000 worth of bonds issued at six
percent remained to be disposed of. The white philan-
thropist Julius Rosenwald was consulted after help from
Black investors had run thin and he took 25,000 of the
lot. The rest went to a white financier from Memphis who
not only leased the mill but became the first manager,
despite the fact that the entire labor force was Black.
The white manager turned out to be devious in his ac-
tions, refusing to submit a financial statement and nego-
tiating some of the bonds illegally (Hamilton, 1991).
This combined with stiff competition from other sources
and the depression of 1914, proved to be the nail in the
coffin for the endeavor. The mill finally closed for
good in early 1915. From 1916 until the mid-twenties,
the mill re-opened and closed under a series of white
managers. It was never able to function with a degree of
stability.
The Bank of Mound Bayou was another pet project of
Banks. Starting up in 1904, the bank played a very im-
portant role in the development of the economic climate
of the town as it provided a degree of capital for new
investments and also helped area Blacks to keep the ma-
jority of their money circulating in their own town.
Before the bank opened, the Black settlers had to arrange
44


financing through white-owned establishments in Memphis,
Tennessee or in neighboring Delta towns. Those buying
goods found themselves being charged as much as thirty
percent interest (Hamilton, 1991). The Bank of Mound
Bayou provided affordable credit for individual farmland,
town lot purchases, general improvements, and business
investments. The bank afforded locals the opportunity to
finance individual endeavors locally and to upgrade the
resources of local businesses. Approximately eighty-five
percent of the Black farmers required second mortgages to
survive, so precipating the need by 1906 for a second fi-
nancial institution, The Mound Bayou Loan and Investment
Company (Hamilton, 1991). The creation of the mortgage
company allowed landowners to place their mortgages with
a company under the control of people with the greatest
interest in the town.
In addition to the financial institutions, the town
boasted of numerous Black-controlled business concerns.
The settlement had thirteen stores grossing a total of
$600,000 in 1907. Two years later it had two sawmills,
three cotton gins, two real estate companies, ten general
merchandise businesses, eight grocery stores, three shoe
shops, two watch and clock repair shops, a bottling com-
pany and a mortuary. The town also had a tailor, two
physicians, four seamstresses, a photographer, and two
45


attorneys. Visitors were treated to the services of a
hotel plus several lodging houses. A power plant was
operating in addition to a parcel delivery business and
livery stable. Established between 1909 and 1911 was a
new brick factory, a $25,000 ice plant and a bakery (Ham-
ilton, 1991).
The Black businesses in the town were thriving. The
communication and transportation systems were relatively
well developed and even though Mound Bayou lacked a tele-
graph station it had a public toll-telephone station.
Additionally, it received five daily mail deliveries.
Six trains per day serviced the Yazoo and Mississippi
Valley Railroad line during 1909 and each one stopped in
Mound Bayou. The steady traffic made the depot the tenth
largest of the line (Hamilton, 1991).
Quite naturally as the wealth from business and pro-
fessional endeavors increased, the area residents begin
to gain status, and the town gained regional fame. The
families of Montgomery, Banks, and Francis remained on
top of the upper class and all three held stock in var-
ious local ventures. Two other stockholders who climbed
the financial mountain were Columbus R. Stringer and
Richard R. McCarty, also directors of the bank. Stringer
had settled in Mound Bayou in 1899, and within ten years
he had established a merchandising business that was
46


valued at $50,000, rivaling those owned by Montgomery and
Banks. McCarty settled in Mound Bayou in 1889 and became
one of the largest Black landowners in the area as he and
his wife operated a 640 acre plantation just outside of
the town. Other individuals of note included Livingston
Brooks, born in 1888, and owner of a grocery and produce
store as well as a livery stable. George A. Lee was one
of the village's first alderman. He was educated at Tou-
galoo College and Fisk University and studied law at the
Illinois College of Law in Chicago. After graduation in
1908, he established his practice in Mound Bayou (Hamil-
ton, 1991).
The Farmer's Cooperative Mercantile Company was es-
tablished in 1909 and catered to the needs of farmers.
The company was headed by Charles Banks, his brother-in-
law, E.P. Booze, and Isaiah Montgomery. Born in Natchez
in 1878, Booze achieved success through his many business
ventures in Mound Bayou and elsewhere. With a keen nose
for business he had his first business, a shoe-shine ven-
ture, at the age of eight. He later learned merchandi-
sing, cotton trading, and bookkeeping while working for
Banks in a Clarksdale firm and at the age of nineteen
established his own general store in Clarksdale (Hamil-
ton, 1991). He would soon have the largest Black-owned
mercantile business in Mississippi. He contracted ma-
47


laria in 1904 and moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado,
staying there for five years before relocating back to
Mound Bayou.
By 1914 trouble had arrived as the town began feel-
ing the effects of the depression. The Bank of Mound
Bayou had heavily invested in loans for cotton planting
and suffered greatly because so much of the assets of the
bank couldn't be converted to cash. Despite desperate
salvage efforts in the form of $5,000 from Julius Rosen-
wald, the bank was closed down by the state banking au-
thorities. A few years later, Banks opened a new bank,
the Mound Bayou State Bank. This endeavor lasted until
1922 when it was forced to close, reeling from the ef-
fects of the 1920 depression. Banks' star image was tar-
nished greatly after the 1920 crash and he was never able
to recover. In 1923 on a list of land that was being
sold for taxes, the name of Charles Banks was listed as
former owner. He severed ties with the Negro National
Business League in 1921 and moved away from Mound Bayou.
48


CHAPTER 4
THE STRUGGLE
Formulation of The Dream
Isaiah T. Montgomery was undoubtedly the heart and
soul of Mound Bayou, especially in the early years of
development. He witnessed periods of progress as well as
stagnation in his tireless efforts to fashion the town to
be the ultimate expression of Black pride. An under-
standing of the development of the town would be incom-
plete without an extensive look at the background of
Isaiah T. Montgomery and the individuals that were influ-
ential in molding his thinking.
In 1818, Joseph Davis moved his father's slaves and
his family from Vicksburg, Mississippi, thirty miles
south to a peninsula in the Mississippi River known as
Palymyra Bend. He immediately set out to acquire a large
amount of the best portion of the land, and by the year
1835 had managed to persuade his younger brother Jeffer-
son to settle on the land with him. Sons of a revolu-
tionary war hero, the two eventually managed to increase
their holdings to a large degree and the area became the
site of six large plantations (Williamson, 1971). The
Davis holdings became so large that the area was renamed
Davis Bend.
49


The Davis plantations grew steadily over the years.
In 1838 Joseph was in control of Hurricane Plantation and
Jefferson retained control of Brierfield Plantation. Be-
tween the two of them they owned close to 200 slaves.
The plantations' emphasis shifted to cotton after a
period of raising a large number of cattle, with the bulk
of the slaves used to clear the land for the cotton crop.
There was no doubt of the Davis' prosperity; by 1860
Joseph owned 2700 acres and Jefferson owned 1800 acres.
The combination of their assets was valued at over
$500,000, and Joseph Davis was considered one of the
richest men in the state of Mississippi (Williamson,
1971). By 1860 Joseph owned 345 slaves and Jefferson
owned 115. An organizational structure was employed to
keep everything functioning smoothly and within that con-
text it was deemed necessary to utilize a large amount of
specialization of labor. The slaves were divided into
two groups referred to as the "upper" and the "lower" and
were supervised by an overseer who was responsible to
Joseph Davis. As the eldest member of the clan, Joseph
Davis had special status as the patriarch of the clan.
Joseph Davis also stood out in another way. He
began to experiment with different ideas regarding the
proper way to govern over the everyday life of slaves,
ideas which had been planted in his mind some years
50


earlier.
In 1825 while a stagecoach passenger on a trip
through the backcountry of New York and Pennsylvania,
Joseph Davis came into contact with Robert Owen, a suc-
cessful British industrialist and social reformer. Owen
had founded a model factory town of New Lanark in Scot-
land behind the philosophy that if one trained any popu-
lation rationally, the population would indeed be ration-
al (Hermann, 1981). On the heels of his experiment in
Scotland, Owen had proceeded to start another venture in
New Harmony, Indiana, and he discussed with the passen-
gers his plans to create a truly harmonious society free
of poverty and crime. He stressed his thoughts that the
man before the public was what he had been shaped to be
and that since character was formed early in life it was
absolutely necessary that everyone be treated with abso-
lute kindness from infancy. Even misbehavior was to be
looked at as an action stemming from a lack of under-
standing about the reasons for good behavior. The adult
factory workers under Owen's plan in Scotland were
treated with the same type of paternalism that he used
with school children and according to Owen, they re-
sponded with cooperation, affection, and increased pro-
ductivity. Even though Owen only had experience with
workers involved in textile manufacturing, he also felt
51


that his methods could be used to increase agricultural
production (Hermann, 1981).
Joseph Davis always felt that man had the ability to
reshape society, due to perhaps the fact that by the age
of forty he had made his way as a frontier lawyer in Mis-
sissippi. His parents and their large family met with
prosperity as they traveled the frontier path from Geor-
gia to Kentucky, and finally on to Mississippi. Joseph
joined the local militia in 1812 to fight the British, as
his father had done in Georgia during the American Revo-
lution, and Joseph helped to shape things as a delegate
to the Mississippi constitutional convention of 1817
(Hermann, 1981). He was an avid reader and therefore
kept abreast of the reform sentiment that was so prev-
alent among the intellectuals in England and New England.
He was in the South witnessing many examples of the se-
vere abuse of men, yet he remained optimistic about the
potential for improvement the human condition. He con-
stantly pondered the thoughts and ideas of Owen and the
application of Owen's ideas and his own situation.
Joseph began to apply the concepts to which he had
been exposed. He did not allow his overseers to mete out
punishment. All complaints had to be heard on Sunday
morning before a jury of other slaves who, after lis-
tening to the evidence, would decide the proper punish-
52


ment. Davis had the privilege of modifying the sentence
or granting a pardon. In terms of plantation management,
Davis was seen as someone ahead of his time:
The slaves were encouraged to be
thrifty, resourceful, and inven-
tive... When a slave could do
better at some other employment
than daily labor, he was allowed
to do so, paying for the worth of
regular field out of his earnings.
(Strode, 1955, pg 112)
Davis allowed slave marriages and gave each family its
own garden area and a few animals. Upon each new birth a
new outfit was given for the baby. Davis scheduled regu-
lar visits by a dentist and after visiting a hospital in
Europe, set one up for his slaves. It was reported in
1864, that just before the war many foreigners visited
Davis Bend, which was being touted as a model plantation
(Williamson, 1971). In 1856, he persuaded a white
teacher to move closer to Hurricane and Brierfield so
that he could set up a school for both the slaves and
white children of the Davis household. This seemed to be
taking methods too far and because of opposition from
whites in the area, the school was closed. Joseph Davis
exerted control over his labor force through the concept
of self-control and self-government while maintaining
final absolute authority. Jefferson Davis was constantly
engaging in political activities, keeping him away from
Davis Bend for extended periods of time. While certainly
53


influenced to a degree by his older brother's methods, he
was not in complete agreement with them and emphatically
denounced the propriety of "attempting to put Negro
children and the white upon the same level..."
(Williamson, 1971).
Into this life of differing methods and contradic-
tions, an individual named Benjamin Montgomery was born
in the 1830's. Considered to be a troublesome slave he
was sold to Natchez, Mississippi, from his birthplace in
Loudoun County, Virginia, forty miles from Washington,
D.C. His master, Jefferson Davis, gave him a wide range
of jobs, even after Benjamin had run away several times.
In time, Benjamin had keen reading abilities, even ac-
quiring his own library. He developed mechanical skills,
acquired the skills of civil engineering and he learned
the basics of architecture. He invented a boat propell-
er, surveyed the line for a levee, and supervised the
construction of many buildings that he designed (Hermann,
1981).
Benjamin eventually married and produced a family
consisting of two sons, Thornton and Isaiah, and two
daughters, Mary and Rebecca, all of whom he educated in-
dividually. Living a life certainly different from the
other slaves, his family achieved a status which placed
them in separate living areas from the rest of the plan-
54


tation. They were allowed to operate a small store and
were responsible for supervising the boat landing at the
edge of the peninsula (Williamson, 1971). Amazingly, the
Montgomery store even sold things to the Davis clan as
explained by Mrs. Davis:
Ben Montgomery kept a variety shop,
and on many occasions the family
bought of him at his own prices.
He shipped, and indeed sometimes
purchased the fruit crops of the
Davis families, and also of other
people in "The Bend" and in one
instance, credited one of us with
$2,000 on his account. The bills
were presented by him with promp-
titude and paid, as were those of
others on an independent footing,
without delay. He many times
borrowed from his master, but was
equally as exact in his dealings
with his creditors.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 15)
No doubt the Montgomery clan experienced life well
in comparison to the other slaves. Thornton rose to
chief supervisor of field work, Ben Green (a cousin des-
tined to be a co-founder of Mound Bayou) served as gen-
eral mechanic, and Benjamin himself assumed the manage-
ment over time of all of the plantation accounts.
Isaiah, the second oldest son, was taken into the Davis
household against his father's wishes as a houseboy,
having learned how to read from his father at an early
age. Within a period of three short years Isaiah had
become the private secretary of Joseph Davis, privately
55


educated along with his master's children even though
Mississippi law prohibited such instruction (Williamson,
1971). With access to Davis' mail, newspapers, and vast
library system, Isaiah acquired an "intimate knowledge of
the household and of many of the business and political
matters in which his masters were interested" (William-
son, 1971). Daily and weekly newspapers from near and
far as well as places abroad were received into the plan-
tation and Isaiah achieved superior knowledge of history,
current events, language, and composition. He communi-
cated with the passenger boats that sailed along the
Mississippi River and received the mails, especially
taking time to read the newspapers. Capitalizing on the
fact that Joseph Davis frequently corresponded with a
large group of individuals on a business and political
level, Isaiah came to possess substantial knowledge of
what was going on around the world (Sewell, 1977).
The Civil War changed the lives of the Montgomerys
significantly. Jefferson Davis' political dealings
steered him to become the President of the Confederacy.
In 1862, he wrote brother Joseph and advised him to move
closer inland. Heeding the advice, Joseph took his fam-
ily and a small number of slaves and headed first to Bol-
ton, Mississippi and then to Alabama, leaving the Mont-
gomery clan to be in charge of the plantations. By the
56


end of the year Hurricane had been burned and homes de-
stroyed. Many of the slaves were run off or left of
their own free will. Isaiah experienced battles of Grand
Gulf and Vicksburg as he was taken aboard a ship and
served as a cabin boy. The rest of the Montgomery clan
(except for Ben Green who went to Vicksburg) was given
safe passage up the river to Cincinnati, Ohio. Isaiah
joined them in late 1863 after getting seriously ill.
The Montgomerys sat out the war for the entire year of
1864, working as carpenters and general laborers. The
next two years would be quite interesting as Davis Bend
became the site of a very revolutionary experiment of the
Civil War.
The Union army gained more and more control of the
Mississippi River and thousands of ex-slaves fled into
the Union lines. The order went out from General Grant
to herd the ex-slaves into camps and the man appointed to
complete the task was Chaplain John Eaton. From there
all able-bodied individuals were to be persuaded to allow
themselves to be contracted out to private individuals to
work the plantations (Williamson, 1971). Davis Bend came
under the jurisdiction of the Freedmen's Department on
December 20, 1863, and over 10,000 Blacks were trans-
ferred to Vicksburg which was a gathering place for the
ex-slaves (Ganus, 1953). Various entrepreneurs came
57


forth and land was leased to them. These individuals
were required to take an oath swearing to employ a
certain number of freedmen, care for the sick, avoid
punishment and pay the government four dollars on every
bale of cotton and five cents on every bushel of corn.
At the same time, the military was struggling with the
Treasury Department for control of the abandoned land.
The Treasury Department, much to the chagrin of the chap-
lain, managed to lease some of the land on the Bend to
"private parties who expended a large sum of money and
made some improvements on the land" (Williamson, 1971).
Mixed results came about as some individuals were ex-
tremely ruthless, some made fortunes, and some failed
completely.
Despite the Treasury Department's attempts to con-
tinue with plans of its own, the military had its own big
plans for Davis Bend. It was the end of 1863 and close
to one thousand Blacks were at Hurricane and Brierfield.
General Grant had definite ideas that the area should be
occupied by the freedmen, desiring the place to "become a
Negro Paradise" (Williamson, 1971). Seventy of the "best
Negroes" were chosen and each one was given 30 acres.
The chief objective of the whole plan was to furnish
everything necessary through government channels, charge
amounts to the freedmen, and receive payment from them at
58


the end of the year. Each fr^edman could hire as many
people as deemed necessary to cultivate portions of land.
The freedmen did very well and were able to pay back the
advances made to them by the government, some even had
profits of between $500 and $1,000; in a short period of
time.
By the end of 1864, the authorities were very ex-
cited as control of the abandoned land was fully under
control of the military. The Treasury Department had
been pushed aside at last. It was time to carry out Gen-
eral Grant's plan for a "negro paradise." An order was
issued on November 5, 1864, declaring that all the prop-
erty on Davis Bend was reserved "for military purposes,
and will be exclusively devoted to the colonization, res-
idence, and support of Freedmen" (Williamson, 1971).
This order repeated a previous order from the Treasury
Department which had been ignored. Under the new order
from the department, the two plantations were to be re-
turned to their former owners under the auspices of the
Treasury Department. All whites were ordered to leave by
January 1, 1865. Chaplain Eaton put forth his opinion of
the situation:
The success of this enterprise has
created quite a desire, on the part
of the colored people in this city
(Vicksburg) to go into such a colony
next year. The more intelligent part
of the Negro population are beginning


to see the immense advantages of such
a scheme, and are engaged in organizing
a colony, which proposes to take at
least one thousand acres, divide it in
the plan adopted this year, build their
houses, secure the land for one year
certainly, and if possible, a sure
vested title to it.
(Reid, 1866, pg 285)
The Montgomery clan in Ohio was very much interested
in the endeavor, probably kept up on the latest develop-
ments by way of Ben Green in Vicksburg (Williamson,
1971). First, Thornton Montgomery arrived to check out
the conditions personally. He was followed by Benjamin
and the remainder of the family. They acquired land on
Brierfield and shortly thereafter re-established their
mercantile business.
King Cotton was kind to those on Davis Bend in the
year of 1865. The operating system was large, about
5,000 acres and most of the plantations, with the excep-
tion of Brierfield, were divided among 1900 Blacks and
organized into 181 companies. The requirement in force
declared that each company had to pay for all rations,
equipment, and provisions. Captain Norton was the super-
intendent of the colony and he had absolute authority
over the entire colony, able to refuse wages to any com-
pany member who failed to do their share of labor (Will-
iamson, 1971). Following in the footsteps of Joseph
Davis, the system of government in the new order was very
60


similar to Davis' design:
The Bend was divided into districts,
each having a sheriff and a judge
appointed from among the more reliable
and intelligent men. A general over-
sight of the proceeding was maintained
by our officer in charge, who confirmed
or modified the findings of the court.
The shrewdness of the colored judges
was very remarkable... Petty theft and
idleness were the most frequent causes
of trouble...
(Eaton, 1917, pg 175)
Captain Norton also had the power to punish judges and
sheriffs who were neglectful of their duties. He regula-
ted prices of all stores on the Bend, allowing some pro-
fit, but ever watchful for extreme profit making (Will-
iamson, 1971). A school was opened with a governing
board and free medical services were provided to all stu-
dents not able to afford the services of the regular phy-
sician.
By the end of 1865, the total income of the freedmen
was at $400,000 as production had yielded 1,736 bales of
cotton and 12,000 bushels of corn. After expenses were
paid to the government, profits came to $159,200 for an
average of $880.00 per company. Excitement was in the
air and expectations ran high, bringing an observer to
remark:
This system suits the freedmen better
than any other...There are about 3,000
people at the Bend...50 had accumulated
$5,000 each within the past two years,
100 others had accumulated from one to
61


four thousand dollars. Some of these
rising capitalists had engaged Northern
men to rent plantations for the coming
year and to take them on as partners...
(Williamson, 1971, pg 29)
Despite the optimism, failure was creeping into
their midst as early as 1864. Two of the six plantations
on the Bend had been returned to the original owners, and
on January 1, 1866, two more reverted to original owners
via presidential pardon. Only Hurricane and Brierfield
remained under control of the government. Joseph Davis
meanwhile was maneuvering behind the scenes to get back
his land and he wrote to President Johnson and General
Howard at the end of 1865 to inquire about a pardon. On
March 28, 1866, he received a presidential pardon and
agreed to allow the Blacks to stay on the land until the
year was finished, giving the Blacks the opportunity to
pay the rent which the Freedman's Bureau was eager to
collect (Williamson, 1971).
Davis Bend had 1900 Blacks working the land and five
months before Joseph Davis was pardoned he and Montgomery
signed an agreement by which Montgomery agreed to work
Hurricane and Brierfield at the cost of one-third of the
crop. In 1866, working on behalf of Davis, Montgomery
collected rent of over $18,000 from 87 individuals.
Montgomery was literally working behind the scenes to try
to establish control of the plantations for Joseph Davis.
62


Benjamin Montgomery did not have a good working re-
lationship with the Freedmen's Bureau and wanted out from
under its control. Problems started surfacing in early
1865 at which time he complained to Joseph Davis that
many of the farmers were not getting a fair deal in oper-
ations with the Bureau (Williamson, 1971). Some agents
of the Bureau attempted to get the Blacks to surrender
control of the cotton gin on the Bend to whites. This
forced measure caused Blacks to lose money on all tran-
sactions. The conflict grew larger in 1866 due to Black
laborers continually losing greater amounts of money.
Many of the laborers began leaving the Bend due to the
problems with the Bureau and circulating rumors that Ben-
jamin Montgomery was about to leave the area. In June,
1866, an order was issued by the Bureau for the closing
of all stores on the Bend. This measure seriously hurt
the Montgomery's who, at that point, were furnishing sup-
plies to over eighty percent of the people on Davis Band.
Although the order was rescinded after a few days, the
incident only further eroded the relationship between
Montgomery and the Bureau (Williamson, 1971).
In addition to the problems with the Bureau offi-
cials, Montgomery was also having trouble with a few
whites living on the Bend. These whites, numbering
twelve in 1866, were in the cotton business and harassed
63


Blacks with attempts to obtain rent by seizing cotton.
Another scheme found the whites trying to reduce the num-
ber of Blacks in the area by persuading them that they
could do much better elsewhere (Williamson, 1971). By
December, 1866, the number of Blacks at Davis Bend had
fallen well below one thousand.
Ben Montgomery was alienated by the conditions and
in October, 1866, he asked Joseph Davis about the pur-
chase price of the Davis places. The Bureau controlled
his every move in regard to economic productivity and was
largely inconsistent with its rule. In addition he faced
harassment by local labor hunters. He believed that the
time had come to try to regain control of the plantation
for himself and fellow Blacks by purchasing the planta-
tions from Joseph Davis. The deal was consummated on
November 15, 1866, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, calling for
Davis to sell 4,000 acres (Hurricane and Brierfield) to
Ben Montgomery and Sons for $300,000 ($75.00/acre): The
contract began the first day of 1867, with the total
purchase price due January 1, 1876 (Williamson, 1971).
Three items made the transaction quite interesting.
First, the existence of the "Black Codes" attempts of
the white population to regain and retain control over
the Black population after the Civil War had become
law in November of 1865. The codes contained provisions
64


which declared that freedmen weren't allowed to lease
land. This deal seemingly was given a measure of protec-
tion because of the fact that Joseph Davis was one of the
most respected men in Mississippi. Second, the former
governor of Mississippi, Charles Clark, assured the Mont-
gomerys that the deal would be protected. Third, an
order was issued by General Wood of the Bureau that the
Montgomery clan would be protected. (Williamson, 1971).
Without the means to protect themselves the Montgomery
clan had no choice but to go along with the assurances of
various whites although it appeared that the clan was
operating blindly for putting trust in the whites.
Along with the questions regarding the Montgomery
clan's willingness to trust the whites were questions
regarding Davis' willingness to sell his land to Blacks.
First, Joseph by this time was an old man, over eighty,
and he had made his will in 1865, feeling that his life
was nearly over. Second, the threat of confiscation of
his land due to his close relation to the former Presi-
dent of the Confederacy loomed large. Third, he had re-
ceived a letter from his wife, in April 1866, after she
had visited the Bend. Reports described Joseph as being
"darkly depressed" at the thought of his ex-slaves occu-
pying his old home, springing forth after he read that
while the Negroes were happy to see her "they all have
65


changed. They talk like proprietors of the land" (Will-
iamson, 1971) Blacks in his mind still needed super-
vision from whites. On March 26, 1867, Joseph informed
Benjamin Montgomery that the deal was finally closed
(Williamson, 1971). Although Joseph agreed to the deal,
his brother Jefferson harbored quite different feelings
about the matter as evidenced by comments from a visiting
correspondent:
The transaction was sincere upon the
part of Joseph Davis, who enjoined his
executors to deal liberally by the
Montgomerys-asking no principal in case
they paid the interest promptly, and
reducing the principal, if prices fell,
to the extent of half the whole amount.
But Jefferson Davis was not sincere.
A letter of his is on record in which
he says that the Montgomerys will never
be able to pay the whole amount. His
intention plainly was to have the eman-
cipated slaves keep the property safe
until the storm of indignation against
him at the North should blow over, when
he hoped to get it back.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 32).
Despite behind the scenes grumbling from Jefferson
Davis, Ben Montgomery and his family had succeeded in
realizing their dream. Demonstrating perseverance and
innovativeness the clan had defied the odds and survived
slavery and now within the midst of a national conflict
they had taken advantage of a favorable situation.
Benjamin Montgomery had all of the land titled in
his name and he began renting the land to tenants. As
66


was the case in earlier days, his store furnished most of
the people with the supplies that they needed. Constru-
ction was in full gear and the tenants soon found a new
smokehouse, sawmill, cotton gin, and boat dock while, at
the same time charging an entrance fee to help construct
levees (Williamson, 1971). Judging from an advertisement
he circulated, as much as possible Benjamin had plans to
continue the system of self-government:
The government of the association will
be confined to a council, selected by
the community, whose duty it shall be
to adopt such rules and regulations as
experience shall show to be necessary
for its welfare...A tax, to be assessed
by the council will be collected from
the persons and property of the community
to provide for the education of the young
and the comfortable maintenance of the
aged and helpless... If, unfortunately,
drunken, idle evil-disposed persons find
their way into the community, it will be
the duty of the council to expel them,
and if the laws permit to remove them
from the community.
(Vicksburg Daily Times, 1866)
As if incurring the wrath of the gods Montgomery had
to sit by and watch disaster strike in 1867, the first
year of operation. In April, many individuals were
forced to flee their homes as one of the worst floods of
the decade ravaged the area. To make the situation much
more desperate, numerous cases of cholera were reported
and Montgomery felt for certain by July that very few
tenants would be able to take care of their expenses.
67


When he contacted Joseph Davis in mid-November he painted
a picture of up and down affairs:
And although we have a tight time
of it in common with almost every
body else, I am inclined to think
the community system will work
after becoming properly systema-
tized, which will require time.
The very high price of cotton a
short time ago and its subsequent
rapid decline together with the
heavy tax on the same with
the high price of provisions and
discouraged stage of labor has
proved ruinous to many. And the
worst may be yet to come...
(Williamson, 1971, pg 35)
Apparently Davis realized that the tenants were doing as
well as could be expected especially considering that
they began to ship more cotton than any of their white
neighbors on the Bend. Seeing the Blacks fight on with
dogged determination convinced Davis to give Montgomery a
reduction in the interest payments, even bypassing the
entire payment for the first year (Williamson, 1971).
The Montgomery clan took full advantage of Davis'
generosity to try to stay afloat. They improved their
situation tremendously, and by 1869 began shipping twice
as much cotton and showing a profit (Williamson, 1971).
Benjamin Montgomery was listed in 1870 as being worth
$50,000 and owning $300,000 worth of land. The year of
1873 was the year for the Montgomery clan to showcase
their abilities, being touted as the third largest cotton
68


producer in the South at the Cincinnati Exposition. One
newspaper article claimed that Montgomery paid over
$2,000 in taxes the same year (Williamson, 1971).
The economic dominance of the Montgomery clan
brought status in another direction on September 30, 1867
with Benjamin being appointed Justice of the Peace of
Davis Bend. The appointment was recommended by a neigh-
boring white man (Williamson, 1971). Not only did Mont-
gomery get re-elected to the post in 1871 and 1873 but
was also appointed to the Board of Registration for Davis
Bend in 1869 (Williamson, 1971). Montgomery was very
protective of the colony against outside influences and
troublesome laborers and insisted that any tenant who
decided to leave the area would have to stay away.
Always attempting to cultivate a calm atmosphere, on one
occasion he arrested a tenant who had robbed a store in a
neighboring area. The man managed to escape and Mont-
gomery remarked that he would have "protected" the Black
man by paying the "injured parties" (Williamson, 1971).
Regardless of how volatile their economic situation
might be at times, one situation was always perilous and
that was the relationship with the dominant white soci-
ety. From the very beginning the reaction to the Davis
Bend experiment was negative in most areas of the state.
Examining the Davis Bend experiment, a Jackson, Missi-
69


ssippi newspaper article in 1866 sent forth the opinion
that the colony:
...has suggested a similar arrange-
ment to holders of large tracts of
land in other parts of the state.
We should not be surprised if a
little experiment was tried in our
own county. All we have to say on
the subject is that we would prefer
not to be a planter adjoining or
adjacent to one of these colonies.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 38)
Growing up in the system of slavery, Benjamin Montgomery
was well aware of his limitations as a Black in a white
dominated society. He was developing a strategy of ra-
cial uplift through the means of economic self-help and
political non-involvement. As a man of wisdom and vision
he saw fit to insert a clause in his initial advertise-
ment, a move which he was well aware would go a long way
towards attempts to survive among whites:
Regarding the suffrage question
as of doubtful and remote utility,
the discussion of it and other
political topics as more likely
to produce contention and idleness
than harmony in the community, such
discussions will be discouraged.
(Vicksburg Daily Times, 1866)
Benjamin Montgomery was indeed caught in a no-win situa-
tion and attempting at every turn to project a humble
posture toward whites as he asked them for "charity,
generosity, and good opinion" (Williamson, 1971). One
story claimed that Montgomery's appointment as Justice of
70


the Peace stirred up so much hostility that he sent his
son Isaiah around to local whites insisting that he would
not hear cases involving any whites (Williamson, 1971).
In late 1874, Benjamin committed what many considered to
be an unforgivable submission to the white power struc-
ture. The city of Vicksburg experienced a white take-
over and within the event a Black sheriff, Peter Crosby
was jailed. Claims surfaced that Crosby gave orders for
fellow Blacks to march upon the jail and free him, all of
which resulted in some Blacks being killed. Benjamin
Montgomery intervened in the matter and kept the blood-
shed to a minimum, and the actions received high praise
from the white press in Jackson:
Old Ben Montgomery-we have always
maintained a certain degree of
respect for this old colored man
and now that respect has increased
a hundred fold since his praise-
worthy action of last Tuesday...
Crosby commanded about 700 Negroes
to come to Vicksburg from Hurricane
Island armed with guns. They start-
ed out, but old Ben confronted them
and bade them return to their homes
.......he spoke so eloquently they
turned back, thus was much blood-
shed spared. If such men as Old
Ben were more plentiful, what a
land of peace and harmony we could
have! All honor to the old slave
of Jefferson Davis.
(Jackson Daily News, 1874)
Along the same lines an earlier newspaper article in
Vicksburg praised Montgomery and added that he is a
71


"sensible darkey" who "does not corrupt himself hunting
offices that he is incompetent to fill" (Williamson,
1971)
Benjamin Montgomery was very well educated, superior
to a great many whites, and was certainly not incompetent
in any manner. He was well qualified to handle any poli-
tical office in the area and had already served success-
fully for seven years before the negative article came to
press. Publicly, Ben disavowed any link with politics.
Behind the scenes however, he constantly sent Ben Green
and others to political meetings to keep abreast of the
latest happenings (Williamson, 1971).
The 1870 census of the Bend listed 1558 Blacks and
forty whites, isolation to a degree due to the geography
of the area. Resentment was still high toward Davis for
the sale of the land to the Montgomery clan. Some of the
planters refused to engage in cooperative behavior even
in instances where they stood to benefit (Williamson,
1971). On some occasions mules and other animals were
stolen. A very serious problem involved the stealing of
labor. Montgomery complained that white planters on the
other side of the river were continually stealing labor
"by means of agents paid for such duties" and that he had
been caused to lose over 300 bales in 1867 (Williamson,
1971). Unfortunately there was little Montgomery could
72


do about the incidents. Relations between whites and
Blacks grew more strained as Montgomery's tenants began
to be harassed constantly, being stopped, questioned and
at times jailed on fabricated charges. In between the
jailings they had their wells poisoned and docks burned.
Walking a dangerous tightrope, the Montgomery clan stood
as nothing less than a miracle and by 1873 had acquired
much more than was deemed possible for a Black family.
However, trouble was brewing on the horizon.
A narrow strip was cut through the narrow end of the
peninsula in 1867 making the Bend into an island and for-
cing the inhabitants to deal with damaging floods. Every
spring the high water caused severe population problems,
with the most serious overflows coming in 1867, 1870,
1873, and 1878 (Williamson, 1971). In addition, King
Cotton had begun to be less kind and the prices for cot-
ton began falling from an average price of one dollar a
pound in 1863 to twelve cents a pound in 1870 and then
even lower to nine cents a pound in 1880 (Williamson,
1971).
The devastation of the cotton industry was only one
issue that the Montgomery clan was attempting to bring
under control. The problem of keeping labor in place was
growing larger and larger each year, referred to as a
"moving mania" and getting to the point where it simply
73


was out of control. Isaiah Montgomery was to later re-
call that "every little accident would make them get up
and leave" (Williamson, 1971). It is very difficult to
gauge the extent to which individuals were run off the
Montgomery land. Stories have surfaced from a variety of
angles with very little consistency. An interesting
point of curiosity is that the 1874 white overthrow of
Reconstruction in Vicksburg coincided very closely with
the dismantling of the Montgomery empire. In addition,
some tenants were heavily in debt to Montgomery and quite
possibly could have decided to flee to another setting
and Jefferson Davis, never a sincere supporter of Blacks,
chose to support this angle. He visited the Bend in 1875
and wrote his wife about the visit:
The poor things (the Blacks) seemed
delighted at the remembrance of the
children. They hate Ben Montgomery
and I fear he has been unjust to
those in whose special interest the
places were sold to him. Well, well,
the world is unjust.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 43)
Some claimed that Montgomery & Sons were known to charge
fifty percent interest on loans and twenty to forty per-
cent interest on supplies from the store. Still others
felt that the misfortunes of Montgomery were due to his
being too liberal with the labor force, supposedly re-
sulting in his having lost over $20,000 in bad debts
(Williamson, 1971). While the opinions were divided, one
74


thing was definitely clear: the tenants were leaving in
large numbers. To add injury, the great massive Midwest
Exodus of 1879 caused Montgomery to lose even more labor-
ers as individuals relocated to places such as Kansas and
Oklahoma. The colony was dying, destined to last only
another year.
Also, Joseph Davis died in 1870. Gone from the
ranks was a chief ally, even though the relationship was
largely paternalistic. Jefferson Davis, long opposing
the methods of his brother, began to serve as executor of
his brother's will. The Montgomerys applied for easier
terms under the provisions of the will of Joseph Davis,
seeking full reduction of one half in the principal, but
Jefferson Davis struck down the request and yielded only
one-sixth in the matter. In 1874 Jefferson Davis legally
attacked the Montgomery clan, filing suit for Brierfield.
The suit was actually for the value of Brierfield in
terms of the interest and notes which were paid by the
Montgomerys, all of which was willed to Jefferson's
children (Williamson, 1971, pg 44). Supposedly the suit
was not intended to regain the land, seemingly backed up
by the testimony from Ben Montgomery declaring that the
clan had agreed with Joseph Davis to turn over Brierfield
to Jefferson whenever he requested the land (Williamson,
1971). Jefferson Davis lost the case in the lower
75


courts. He later won in the Supreme Court of Mississippi
after the Montgomerys testified that they probably would
not be able to honor the contract. The Supreme Court
decided in Davis7 favor and the title to Brierfield was
transferred to his name in June of 1878 (Williamson,
1971).
Benjamin Montgomery passed away in 1878, and for all
practical purposes, his death marked the end of the Davis
Bend colony. Many individuals became discouraged during
the next few years and went elsewhere. Ben Green moved
to the eastern part of the state, Thornton and Isaiah
took a short trip to the midwest and Isaiah Montgomery
ended up in Kansas with the rest of those making the exo-
dus. Many of his ex-tenants had made the trip and had
run into severe problems and he assisted some in making a
return trip to Mississippi. Visitors to the Bend in late
1879 found the majority of the Montgomerys living on the
Ursino plantation having purchased the 2400 acre site for
$75,000 even though their resources were growing weaker
each month. They relinquished their holdings in 1880
under suit of foreclosure at which time they were re-
lieved of all debt (Williamson, 1971). Thornton moved to
North Dakota and Isaiah moved to Vicksburg where he set
up a small mercantile business (Williamson, 1971). The
Davis Bend colony had come to an official end.
76


Isaiah T. Montgomery: Man in the Middle
The year was 1882 and Isaiah Montgomery was in
Vicksburg running his mercantile business while his cou-
sin Benjamin Green was in Newton doing the same. Their
dream of a all-Black colony behind them, events were un-
folding that would offer yet another opportunity to pur-
sue the dream.
A group of white financiers organized the Financial
Improvement Company on September 16, 1882, to aid in
building a railroad that would stretch between Memphis,
Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. Collis P. Hunting-
ton had acguired a reputation of being a great American
railroad developer and under his guidance the company fi-
nished the line in 1883 (Hamilton, 1991). Growing stead-
ily, within the next two years the company merged with
several other smaller companies to form the Louisville,
New Orleans, and Texas Railway (L.N.O.T.). This arrange-
ment continued until 1892 upon which time they merged
with the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad. They
became part of the huge Illinois Central Railroad complex
and had purchased over a million acres of land from the
Mississippi Levee Commission at eight or nine cents per
acre (Williamson, 1971). The area was located along the
LNOT railway in the area of northwest Mississippi. Known
as the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta it was sparsely populated,
77


heavily wooded, flat and swampy. The Levee Commission
sold the land to the railroad in hopes of stimulating
development. Years earlier the land had been acquired
for taxes.
By itself, the land was practically worthless so it
was in the best interest of the railroad to develop the
land somehow. There was a general fear among whites
regarding the disease called "swamp fever" and the rail-
road experienced difficulty in enticing whites to settle
in the area (Williamson, 1971). Therefore the railroad
turned to the Black population:
The company desired to profit by
the timber, first,...and after-
wards by the products of the soil
by hauling. In view of this, it
was considered a good plan to
divide the tract into farms, and
to let the Negroes buy them on
long-time contracts.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 57)
Profit, not philanthropy, was the main motivation
for the railroad. In 1889, a lawyer wrote to officials
of the railroad agreeing that the lands should be sold to
Blacks. He liked the idea of putting the price at $1.00
acre/down plus free use of the land for four years. The
free use was contingent upon settlers clearing a speci-
fied amount of land at which time they had to ship the
timber over railroad lines which insured that the rail-
road lines would see a measure of profit.
78


The land commissioner for the L.N.O.T. railroad was
George W. McGinnis and he approached a Black employee,
James Hill, about assistance in getting Blacks into the
area. Hill knew of the previous Davis Bend colony and
referred McGinnis to Isaiah Montgomery (Hamilton, 1991).
Isaiah met with McGinnis and a plan was worked out to
allow Black purchase of the land. The railroad only
wanted to place the Blacks on the most sparsely popu-
lated land so the decision was already cast to erect the
Black community in a area known as Bolivar County. In
1886, Montgomery made a series of trips into the Delta
accompanied by a civil engineer. He was searching for a
site "as remote from other established settlements as
possible" (Williamson, 1971). Finally, in 1887, he
selected a site and he returned to Vicksburg where he
persuaded his cousin Benjamin Green to join him in the
new endeavor. A new vision was in the making.
From the very beginning as founder of the community,
Isaiah was clearly the spokesman. It was through him
that most of the major relationships with whites were es-
tablished. As the man in the middle he had to formulate
plans to enable his all-Black community to prosper while,
at the same time, forestall white oppression to a toler-
able level.
The white overthrow of Reconstruction brought into
79


being vicious and systematic intimidation designed to
restore and strengthen white supremacy. However, in many
of the so-called river counties such as Bolivar County
the ratio of Blacks to whites quite often was five to
one. In 1880, Bolivar County yielded figures showing the
ratio to be 5.9 to 1 and it rose to 8.2 to 1 in 1890
(Williamson, 1971). White leaders of the Democratic Par-
ty wanted to achieve and maintain maximum political con-
trol at minimum cost and thus instituted a system of
slight compromise that came to be known as the "fusion
principle" (Williamson, 1971). Under this system white
Democrats and Black Republicans would get together and
decide which offices in the county as well as the coun-
ty's legislative delegation would be held by Blacks. In
actual practice the Democratic executive committee held
all power of approval or disapproval of Black candidates.
The appointments that Blacks received were positions that
had low pay and virtually no responsibility at all (Will-
iamson, 1971). A senator described the peculiar
arrangement:
In other words, although the county
elections were largely dominated by
Negroes, whites and blacks lived
harmoniously in the county, generally
really agreeing on who should be
elected and then electing a negro
to office and a white friend opera-
ting the office.
(Williamson, 1971, pg 123)
80


It was never really an issue about agreement on any is-
sue. With this arrangement both were able to gather in a
few allowances. Whites were able to retain full control
without having to use extreme outright physical intimi-
dation. Blacks on the other hand were able to get into
some political offices which they would not have been
able to do in the face of severe white oppression. Just
as his father before him, Isaiah Montgomery started off
walking a dangerous tightrope because the system was
firmly in place as he began the development of his new
colony.
In 1888, Isaiah was placed on the Republican County
Commission after expressing full endorsement of the fu-
sion ideas (Williamson, 1971). The Constitutional Con-
vention of 1890 was called to order and in the process of
eliminating the strength of the Black vote and proving
the strength of the fusion system, a ticket was put to-
gether featuring Isaiah T. Montgomery and a white Demo-
crat. Isaiah was about to enter forever the pages of
history.
The convention met in August of 1890 and not sur-
prisingly featured one lone Republican and one lone
Black. The individual was none other- than Montgomery.
Some of the other delegates were angry and uneasy about
the presence of Montgomery. They were well aware that
81


the focus of their meeting was to eliminate the Black
vote and certainly didn't want any Blacks present. Some
contested the seat of Montgomery but were defeated on
their measure. In fact, when the matter was put to vote
Montgomery retained his seat by the overwhelming majority
of 79 to 27. The vote seems incredible until one takes
into consideration claims that Montgomery supposedly made
deals in order to be allowed to retain the seat (William-
son, 1971). Within the peculiar situation is the issue
that Isaiah was elected on a fusion ticket, and one must
wonder how closely his personal views were examined.
Isaiah was put into place as a member of the Commit-
tee on Elective Franchise and Apportionments as a bonus
for favoring the reduction of representation in the Black
counties. This committee developed a disfranchisement
clause which contained a poll tax qualification in addi-
tion to a notorious "understanding clause" which demanded
that a voter be able to interpret any section of the con-
stitution immediately upon request. Very early a debate
ensued between those who wanted all of the provisions im-
plemented and those who wanted the understanding clause
left out in an attempt to protect some white voters. The
fierce debate raged on for several days. Quite simply,
the debate was between the Black river counties contain-
ing a high number of Blacks and the white hill counties
82


containing a high number of whites. Delegates from Black
counties wanted the understanding clause struck out, but
fierce opposition caused the clause to become part of. the
overall report (Williamson, 1971).
Isaiah was given an opportunity to address the con-
vention and he didn't fail to please the white delegates.
He gave an hour long speech in which he professed clear
support for the committee report and virtual disfran-
chisement of Blacks in the state of Mississippi. During
the speech he declared that he had a mission to "bridge a
chasm that has been widening and deepening for a genera-
tion... that threatens destruction to you and yours, while
it promises no enduring prosperity to me and mine" (Her-
mann, 1981). Listeners were also reminded of the tremen-
dous work slaves had put forth in developing the many
plantations of the state, claiming that "every acre of
the land represents a grave and every furrow a tear"
(Hermann, 1981). Regarding the Blacks who were soon to
disfranchised, Montgomery declared that they had failed
to attain the "high plane of moral, intellectual, and
political excellence" reached by whites, and that Blacks
were currently stalled at an "inferior development in the
line of civilization" (Crockett, 1979). The proposed law
that Montgomery was endorsing would surely disfranchise
more than 124,000 Black voters and only 11,000 white
83


voters while effectively providing whites with a safe
majority of 40,000 voters (Williamson, 1971). He felt
that a severe race conflict was possibly in the making
and therefore was willing to sacrifice voting rights to
keep matters calm.
Quite naturally all of the convention delegates were
thrilled with the speech by Montgomery. A supportive
speech from the only Black delegate present gave the
whites the best possible endorsement for disfranchisement
and by a lop-sided margin the literacy test was incorpor-
ated into the draft of the new state constitution. Demo-
cratic newspapers in the state gave Montgomery's speech
high praise and wide coverage. The New York World even
printed the speech in full and dispatched a reporter to
Jackson to get a photograph and do a feature story on
Montgomery (Hermann, 1981).
On the other hand, Black spokesmen and leaders had
different opinions on the matter. One individual, Henry
F. Downing, was so angry over the matter that he sent a
copy of the full text to a large number of Black leaders
requesting their opinion. Based in New York, Downing
reigned as head of the United States African News Company
and declared "Montgomery's surrender of the rights of
123,000 Negroes upon the altar of expediency is an act
unprecedented either for its heroism or for its audacity.
84


Which?" (Hermann, 1981). In the neighboring state of
Alabama, future leader Booker T. Washington remained
silent on the matter. Another newsman, the militant
editor, T. Thomas Fortune, reported that none of the
replies to his newspaper New York Age were favorable to
Montgomery, further blasting him for inflicting serious
damage to Black people (Crockett, 1979). The highly
respected Frederick Douglass declared the speech by Mont-
gomery as "a positive disaster to the race" and felt that
Isaiah had been taken in by lying whites, adding "no
thoughtless, flippant fool could have inflicted such a
wound upon our cause as Mr. Montgomery has done in the
address" (Hermann, 1981). Once back in the Mound Bayou
community, Montgomery later stood out as one eligible to
vote in elections held outside of the town limits. It
would be many years later, in 1904, that Montgomery in a
private letter to Booker T. Washington would say that his
stand in 1890 had been a serious mistake (Crockett,
1979).
Isaiah's fame and influence spread tremendously as a
result of his 1890 address and Mound Bayou received some
tangible benefits as a result. He soon found himself in
Washington with a Black delegation to seek appropriations
to build effective levees along the Mississippi-Yazoo
delta. After successful lobbying efforts, he served as
85


the representative to go before the commission allocating
the building funds. The influence spread to state Repub-
lican politics and Montgomery became successful in work-
ing to ensure federal appointments for men who expressed
partiality toward Black interests (Hermann, 1981).
Montgomery never again stood for elective office
after 1890, but attempting to gain more benefits for the
town of Mound Bayou, he accepted a appointive government
position. President Theodore Roosevelt was eager to
place Negroes in federal posts in the South. Edgar S.
Wilson headed the U.S. Land Office in the state of Missi-
ssippi and under direct orders from Roosevelt he offered
Isaiah a position as collector of government monies.
Largely in the tradition of his father Benjamin Montgom-
ery, Isaiah declared "I am loath to turn aside for po-
litical preferment" (Hermann, 1988). However Wilson and
state Republicans were persistent in their efforts and he
was persuaded to accept, assuming his duties in the
spring of 1902. Montgomery had never headed anything
larger than the family business Montgomery & Sons on
Davis Bend, and was not prepared for the complicated
bureaucracy of the Interior Department. From the moment
he arrived, most of his white staff was extremely hostile
to him. Before years end his job became tougher as
budget cuts decimated his staff of sorely-needed exper-
86


ienced clerical workers. Additionally, his top assistant
was given a promotion that removed him out of the land
office. Montgomery begin to have difficulty keeping up
with the work. All the while he was busier than ever
attempting to tend to his responsibilities in Mound
Bayou. More surprises were to come. Only in the posi-
tion a little over a year, Montgomery had not fully
mastered the federal position when, in May 1903, a sur-
prise inspection of his operations was conducted by a
special agent from Washington while Montgomery was out of
town. It was alleged that irregularities in the accounts
were found with over $5,000 missing (Hermann, 1981).
During the weekend, a special agent from New Orleans
arrived and ransacked the desk, safe, and private papers
of Montgomery. He also tried to gain access to the pri-
vate bank account of Montgomery. Isaiah arrived back in
town quite surprised and answered questions regarding his
financial affairs. Technical violation of rules were
discovered but there was no shortage of funds as origi-
nally reported. Montgomery was led to believe that the
matter had been resolved, however the agent recommended
to his superiors that Montgomery be relieved of his
duties for depositing "moneys of a semi-official charac-
ter in an unauthorized bank." The agent insisted that
anything less "would result in an attack on the admini-
87


stration for shielding and white-washing a nigger"
(Hermann, 1988).
Montgomery, hurt, shocked and disappointed, was
forced to resign. His faith in the trustworthiness of
the white elite was beginning to be questioned within
himself as many of his so-called friends in high places
suddenly wanted nothing to do with him. He was left to
defend himself as best he could and in the words of his
brother "he was not a combative man" (Hermann, 1988).
Within six months however, he had returned to good graces
among many and was invited to Kentucky to attend the ded-
ication of a memorial building on the hundredth anniver-
sary of Abraham Lincoln's birth (Hermann, 1988). He at-
tended, surely realizing more and more the severe limita-
tions of white helpfulness.
Like his father, Isaiah Montgomery walked a racial
tightrope and he was fully aware of the importance of
maintaining a good reputation among the local whites.
This was indeed the buffer to the prevention of terrorist
attacks against the colony of Mound Bayou. The delicate
nature of the situation was brought to light when he was
asked by Booker T. Washington to respond to a reporter's
request for particulars on the acts of oppression against
members of the Black race. Montgomery refused, saying
"for reasons which you well understand, I cannot afford
88


any special notoriety in connection with these matters"
(Hermann, 1981).
The most successful members of the Black race large-
ly saw unpublished acts of terrorism increase against
their lot. Montgomery was beginning to express doubts as
to the overall effectiveness of his policies of accom-
modation. Publicly he was urging his kind to keep home
insisting that "...you will find white friends still
ready to utter words of encouragement, and extend a help-
ing hand to those of us who strive to live a deserving
life" (Hermann, 1988) Privately he expressed deep dis-
appointment because of the severe opposition to Black ad-
vancement that was occurring all throughout the state.
In a letter to a Republican committeeman in Washington he
declared "in large areas of Mississippi, 'white caps'
(disguised terrorists) have driven out sober, industr-
ious, and reliable people, many of them home owners...
because they prospered, and their example was likely to
be helpful to others" (Hermann, 1988).
Montgomery was never allowed to forget the precar-
ious situation in which he was emeshed. He served in
1904 as a delegate from Mississippi at the Republican
National Convention, and on the return trip home granted
an interview with officials with the St. Louis Globe-
Democrat. During the interview he said that the Demo-
89


crats would be "very much disappointed with the result"
if they made the race question an issue in the presiden-
tial campaign. The remark was printed by the Vicksburg
Herald, noting that "it read a little like a threat..."
The editor went on to say that the statement did not
illustrate "his characteristic good sense," and served a
reminder that no one knew better than Montgomery "what it
would mean to himself and the colony he has so creditably
built up and cared for, if he incurred the reputation of
a race agitator" (Hermann, 1988).
Each terrorist act that occurred forced Montgomery
to acknowledge that he indeed walked a "tightrope situa-
tion" over which he had little control. He received a
letter from a friend of his, Reverend C.A. Buchanan, who
had made a decent living as a printer of Baptist publica-
tions. He owned a decent home, a piano, and horse and
buggy which he used to transport his daughter to and from
his store where she helped out as cashier and bookkeeper.
A mass meeting was held by local whites and while he was
in Natchez one day on a business trip, he was approached,
threatened with death and given three days to leave the
area. Whites had decided that the mode of living which
the Buchanan family used to travel "was a bad influence
on cooks and washerwomen, who aspired to do likewise, and
became less disposed to work for whites" (Hermann, 1988).
90


His story was just one of many as countless numbers of
Blacks were forced to leave homes and businesses simply
because of their prosperity.
The beneficial results that Montgomery hoped for had
failed to materialize in spite of sacrifice of the 1890
constitutional convention. Whites were using all means
available, legal and illegal, to keep Blacks from rising
beyond the status as impoverished peasant laborer. Re-
gardless of the level of wealth and education a Black
achieved, he or she was viewed as one who was subservient
to all white people. In a letter to a Michigan college
student, Montgomery sadly expressed the opinion that ter-
rorist attacks on Blacks seemed to have the approval of
high government officials, up to and including the gover-
nor (Hermann, 1988). Understanding all too well the
situation, Montgomery in a rare outburst predicted that
"the dominant spirit of the South will be satisfied with
nothing less than a retrogression of the Negro back to-
wards serfdom and slavery" (Hermann, 1988).
The Booker T. Washington Factor
The most significant result that was gained from the
infamous speech given by Isaiah Montgomery at the 1890
convention was the friendship gained of Booker T. Wash-
ington, who became one of the most important Black men in
91


America. In 1895, Washington gained national attention
for his famous speech in which he disavowed any desire
for social and political equality in exchange for advo-
cating economic progress through hard work as the primary
means of advancement. Montgomery was very familiar with
ideas of self-help and racial solidarity, having heard
his father preach the same message while at Davis Bend
(Williamson, 1971). Truly, Montgomery favored his
father's faith in hard work and economic achievement as
the ideal way to win acceptance from the white world.
Benjamin Montgomery had always wished to develop the best
scientific methods of farming and spread the information
among the Black farmers of the South (Crockett, 1979).
To Montgomery, Washington's establishment of a vocational
agriculture program at Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama
accomplished such a dream. There seemed no better place
to try and perfect the methods being formulated in the
minds of Washington and Montgomery than Mound Bayou.
Washington gathered a sense of pride from Mound Bayou and
the town became the beneficiary of many favors as the in-
fluence of Washington grew. In 1911, he pridefully ac-
knowledged Mound Bayou as a "place where a Negro may get
inspiration by seeing what other members of his race have
accomplished...(and) where he has an opportunity to learn
some of the fundamental duties and responsibilities of
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social and civic life" (Hermann, 1981).
Booker T. Washington brilliantly used Mound Bayou to
support his philosophy of self-help and racial uplift
through the use of his many articles, speeches, and
books. The town was isolated to a degree from whites and
he explained to audiences that it proved that under the
proper circumstances the Black race was more than capable
of self-government and was comprised of hard working and
law abiding people (Crockett, 1979). Seeing Mound Bayou
as somewhat of a laboratory setting, when he wrote an
article "Law and Order and the Negro" in 1909 for The
Outlook, he cited statistics from the town to highlight
the absence of serious crimes there (Crockett, 1979).
Mound Bayou was indeed a town but was a school also.
While individuals would certainly gain inspiration from
seeing others of their race gain various achievements,
they would be learning the duties and obligations of
social and civic life also.
Washington's first trip to Mound Bayou in October
1908 was organized by Charles Banks as part of a state-
wide speaking excursion. Washington commissioned his
travel assistant, Robert R. Moton, to write an article
about the trip and especially wanted positive reference
included about the town of Mound Bayou. The article
would later be published in the December, 1908 Southern
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