Davis Bend, Mississippi was an all-black town near Vicksburg, sometimes referred to as Davis Bend colony. It was a 4,000-acre cooperative community made up of former enslaved African Americans seeking equality, justice, and race pride in a society they called their own. In 1865, this community was one of the first black towns to develop after the Civil War. The architect of Davis Bend was African American Benjamin Montgomery. Prior to 1865, when Davis Bend was simply referred to as the “Joseph Davis plantation,” an enslaved Montgomery functioned as its overseer and owned the plantation store. After the war, Davis sold the land that his plantations rested on to Montgomery for $300,000 in gold at a 6 percent interest rate.
The largest plantation at Davis Bend was Hurricane. In 1872, Benjamin Montgomery’s son, Isaiah, ran Hurricane as its property manager, informal counsel, and diplomat to white neighbors, agents, and suppliers from Vicksburg, Cincinnati (Ohio), New Orleans (Louisiana), and St. Louis (Missouri).
James Thomas Bell was born May 17, 1903, in Starkville, Mississippi. Playing baseball as a 19 year-old rookie Bell earned the nickname “Cool Papa” after proving to his older teammates that he was not intimidated by playing professionally in front of large crowds. Signing with the St. Louis Stars in 1922, Bell entered professional baseball as a pitcher, reportedly throwing a wicked curveball and fade-away knuckleball.
The speed of Bell would become apparent when he beat the Chicago American Giants Jimmy Lyons in a race for the title of “fastest man in the league.” He immediately switched to center field, where he would play shallow and always manage to run down long hits. Bell stayed with the Stars until 1930 when the league disbanded, and led them to league titles in 1928 and 1930.
Blackbaseball.com, http://www.blackbaseball.com/players/coolpapabell.htm ;
National Baseball Hall of Fame, http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/bell_cool_papa.htm ;
Negro League Baseball Players Association, http://www.nlbpa.com/bell__james_-_cool_papa.html
Mound Bayou was an all black town in the Yazoo Delta in Northwest Mississippi. It was founded during the spring of 1887 by twelve pioneers from Davis Bend, a fledgling black colony impacted by falling agricultural prices, natural disasters, and hostile race relations. This migration movement was led by Isaiah Montgomery, former patriarch of Davis Bend. Purchased from the Louisville, New Orleans, and Texas Railroad (L, NO & T), Mound Bayou bordered a new rail line between Memphis, Tennessee and Vicksburg. From 1890 to 1915, Mound Bayou was a land of promise for African Americans. Encapsulated in this “promise” were self-help, race pride, economic opportunity, and social justice, in a self-segregated community designed for blacks to have minimum contact with whites until integration was a viable option to black freedom.
Edward Rose, also known by the names Five Scalps, Nez Coupe and “Cut Nose,” was the son of a white trader father and a Cherokee and African American mother. Little else is known about his early life including where he was born. He may have spent some years working on the Mississippi River between southern Illinois and New Orleans, Louisiana.
One of the great light heavyweights of all time, Archie Moore, a.k.a., the “Old Mongoose,” was born under the name of Archibald Wright on December 13, 1913 in Benoit, Mississippi. Archie turned professional in 1936, originally operating in the middleweight ranks, but ultimately moving up into the light heavyweight class by 1945. He fought a total of 222 recorded bouts over more than 27 years in the ring. He campaigned against most of the toughest men in the business during his long career, posting 187 wins, including 132 knockouts, against only 23 losses and 11 draws.
Moore campaigned for 16 years before gaining an opportunity to fight for a world championship. On December 15, 1952 he became the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World at age 39, defeating Joe Maxim by a decision in fifteen rounds, thereby becoming the oldest light heavyweight champion in history. He defeated Maxim twice in rematches and was nearly unbeatable as a light heavyweight, successfully defending the title nine times, and holding it for almost a decade before finally being stripped of it in February of 1962 for failing to defend the title within the required period of time.
Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.
Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.
This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.
In this constitutional case, the U.S. Supreme Court, composed entirely of Bok Guey (whites), adjudged Hon Yen (Chinese) to be in the same social classification as Lo Mok (blacks). The Supreme Court’s decision permitted the state of Mississippi to define Martha Lum as a member of the “colored races” so that “white schools” could remain segregated. The origins of “Lotuses among the Magnolias” involved southern planters’ fears that emancipation had spoiled their newly freed slaves. The question posed by planters was whether the freed people would work without the sting of the lash. Planters answered by recruiting Chinese labor and by 1900 the majority of coolie labor came from the “Sze Yap” or Four Counties district southwest of Canton in South China.
Dr. Jane McAllister was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on October 24, 1899. Born into a time of overt racism that severely limited black opportunity, McAllister’s family managed to escape poverty’s grip and join the small percentage of middle-class African American families in early 20th century Mississippi. Her father’s work as a mail carrier, and her mother’s position as a school teacher, enabled the McAllister family to avoid the cyclic economic problems of the occupations that most African Americans were forced to pursue like sharecropping and domestic service.
Dr. McAllister flourished in school, graduating from high school at age 15 and from Talladega College in Alabama in 1919 where she became the youngest Talladega graduate by earning her degree at the age of 19. This groundbreaking pattern continued into 1929 when Jane Ellen McAllister became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University. From there, Dr. McAllister chose to share her wealth of knowledge with others, teaching psychology and education at Southern University, Grambling State, Fisk College, Virginia State and Dillard among others until her retirement in 1970. Dr. McAllister died in January 1996, at the age of 96.
John Gibbs St. Clair Drake was an American anthropologist and sociologist and the founding Director of Stanford University’s African and African American Studies Department in 1968. Drake was born in Suffolk County, Virginia on January 2, 1911. Drake’s father immigrated to the United States from the Barbados in 1904, and studied at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, and upon graduation became a Baptist Preacher. Drake’s mother, Bessie, was a devout churchwoman born in Virginia. When his parents divorced Drake moved to live with his father in Staunton, Virginia. A few years later Drake accompanied his father to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1916 when the Rev. Drake continued ministering to his African American congregants who migrated north. Drake later returned to Staunton, Virginia to live with his mother, who had separated and later divorced his father in 1924.
Christopher Metress, The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative
(Virginia: The University of Virginia Press, 2002); www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/earlycivilrights/emmett.html
James Meredith, Three Years in Mississippi (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966); http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/meredith_james/.
Ruth Edmonds Hill, ed., The Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler, 1991); Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867-1967 (New York: New York University Press, 1967); http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_109.html
Born on October 2, 1939 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, George Robert Reed is a former American College football and Canadian Football League (CFL) player. Reed is considered one of the premier fullbacks to play in the CFL. Reed played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 13 seasons, from 1963 until his retirement in June of 1975.
Reed, whose family moved to Renton, Washington, played football at Washington State University both as fullback and linebacker between 1959 and 1963. After his graduation in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, he came to Canada to play professional football with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina, Saskatchewan. As a professional football player George Reed amassed numerous awards such as the Schenley Award for the Most Outstanding Player and set records including most rushing yards (16,116) for all of professional football. His jersey, # 34, is permanently retired in the Canadian Hall of Fame and Museum in Hamilton, Ontario.
John Roy Lynch, congressman, soldier and author was born in Concordia Parish, Louisiana on September 10, 1847 to Patrick Lynch, an Irish immigrant and Catherine White, a slave. Lynch’s father died soon after his birth. Lynch and his mother were then traded to a plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. During the Civil War, Lynch became free when he fled the plantation and to serve as a cook for the 49th Illinois Volunteer Regiment.
During Reconstruction, Lynch joined the Republican Party in Mississippi. After working as assistant secretary for the Republican State Convention, Lynch became the Justice of the Peace in Natchez County, Mississippi. In November 1869 at the age of 22, Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. Three years later, in 1872 he was named Speaker of the House.
James D. Lynch, a Reconstruction era politician, is best known for his position as Secretary of the State of Mississippi from 1869 to 1872. Lynch was the first African American to hold a major political office in that state. Born in 1838 in Baltimore, Maryland, his father was white merchant and minister and his mother was a slave.
Lynch received an early education at an elementary school taught by the Reverend Daniel Payne of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, and was then send to Meriden, New Hampshire to attend the Kimball Union Academy. After studying for only two years he moved to Indianapolis and began preaching at a small church in the town of Galena, Indiana.
After the Civil War, Lynch joined other religious missionaries in South Carolina. As an official of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, he helped establish churches and schools for African American adults and children between 1865 and 1866.
Lynch eventually turned to politics believing that the freedmen’s political rights equally important as the development of their religious faith. In 1867 he was elected the Vice President of the first Republican State Party Convention in Mississippi. By 1869 he had become the most prominent African American politician in Mississippi and, after his nomination by the Republican Party and an exhaustive campaign; Lynch was elected Secretary of State.
Evelyn Preer, one of the first African American silent screen actresses to transition into sound Hollywood films, was born on July 21, 1896 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. After her father’s death, Preer and her mother relocated to Chicago, Illinois where she completed high school before pursuing acting.
Preer’s big break came when she landed a role in Oscar Micheaux’s first film, The Homesteader (1919), in which she played a tragically unhappy woman abandoned by her husband for a mulatto woman whom he believed to be white. Impressed with her talent, Micheaux cast Preer in several roles in which she generally played dramatic characters, challenging many of the prevailing black film stereotypes. Preer expanded her acting abilities into the area of theater, frequently alternating between the screen and stage as she became a staple for Micheaux’s dramatic films and an esteemed actress for the Lafayette Players.
Preer met and married stage actor Edward Thompson while traveling with the players and the duo headlined productions for the traveling section of the Lafayette Players throughout the early 1920s. Preer’s impressive theatricality led her to Broadway where she recorded with the legendary musical composer Duke Ellington, performed with Ethel Waters, and won acclaim for her role as Sadie Thompson in the revival of Somerset Maugham’s classic melodrama Rain.
Pearl Bowser, Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black. The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Francesca Sr. Thompson, Drop me off in Harlem, http://www.artedge.kennedy-center.org/exploring/harlem/themes/lafayette.html.
Aaron Henry and Constance Curry, Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995).
Robert Wood is believed to be one of the first African American mayors in the United States. He served as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in the early 1870s. Wood was born in 1844 to Susie Harris, an African American housekeeper, and Dr. Robert Wood, a white doctor from Virginia. His parents never married, but lived side by side. According to oral histories, Wood was never a slave and lived mostly with his father, a former mayor of Natchez himself.
Mississippi Governor James L. Alcorn appointed Robert Wood as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in 1869. He later was elected mayor in 1870. His election was part of the “Black and Tan Revolution,” a short-lived political shift in Mississippi in which citizens of Mississippi elected many African Americans to state offices between 1868 and 1875. At its peak in 1873, half of Mississippi's state elected officials were black.
David Duncan Collum, Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South: The
Stuff that Makes Community. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2006);
Mike Brunker, “Race, Politics and the Evolving South: A Black Mayor,
130 Years Later” MSNBC.com. Aug. 17, 2004.
Jane Mersky Leder and Howard Schroeder, Walter Payton (Mankato, Minn.: Crestwood House, 1986); Walter Payton and Don Yaeger, Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (New York: Villard, 2000); http://www.bearshistory.com/lore/walterpayton.aspx
Bennie G. Thompson, United States Representative from Mississippi's Second Congressional District, is the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and as such is one of the most influential African American members of Congress.
Thompson was born in Bolton, Mississippi on January 28, 1948 to Will Thompson, an auto mechanic, and Annie Lauris Thompson, a teacher. He earned a BA in political science from Tougaloo College in 1968, and then earned MS and MA degrees from Jackson State University in 1972. He worked for one year as a school teacher in Madison, Mississippi after graduating from Tougaloo.
Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) is a public institution located in Itta Bena, Mississippi. MVSU is the nation’s youngest historically black public university. In 1946 the Mississippi legislature passed an act authorizing the establishment of a new institution to be named Mississippi Vocational College. The purpose of the school was to educate teachers for rural and elementary schools and to provide vocational training.
Ground was broken for the new school in February of 1950, and the first classes were held that summer when 250 teachers came to campus to attend in-service classes. The first academic year began in the fall of 1950 with 14 students and seven faculty members. That year the college offered bachelor’s of science degrees in 14 areas and provided extension services. In 1964 the college was authorized to offer liberal arts, education, and science degrees, and changed its name to Mississippi Valley State College. Mississippi governor William Waller signed a bill granting university status to the school in 1974. At that time the institution became known as Mississippi Valley State University. MVSU offered its first master’s degrees two years later.
A historically black college located in on a 125-acre campus near downtown Jackson, the capital city of the state of Mississippi, Jackson State University (JSU) has been the designated urban university of the state’s higher education system since 1979. The school was founded in 1877 by the American Baptist Home Mission Society as Natchez Seminary “for the moral, religious, and intellectual improvement of Christian leaders of the colored people of Mississippi and the neighboring states.”
The institution was originally located in Natchez, Mississippi, but was moved to Jackson in 1882. In 1899 the curriculum was expanded and the school’s name was changed to Jackson College. The American Baptist Home Mission Society withdrew its support for the College in the 1930s, prompting the administration to seek state support to continue its operation. The State of Mississippi assumed support of the college in 1940, and mandated that the school’s primary purpose should be the training of teachers. In 1942 the Board of Trustees instituted a four year teacher education program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. Between 1953 and 1956 the curriculum was again expanded to include a graduate program and bachelor’s programs in the arts and sciences. In 1956 the institution became known as Jackson State College. Jackson State achieved university status in 1974.
Prominent educator Walter Eugene Massey was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on April 5, 1938. His father, Almar, was a steelworker and his mother, Essie, a teacher. Massey had an exceptional mind, even at an early age. By the time he finished 10th grade, his skills in mathematics were strong enough to earn him a college scholarship. Massey enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated with a BS in math and physics in 1958.
While working on his master’s and doctorate degrees at Washington University in St. Louis, Massey conducted research on the quantum of liquids and solids. He received a PhD in 1966. Massey began his teaching career as an associate professor at the University of Illinois then moved to Brown University in 1970, becoming a full professor five years later.
Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr. was born June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Morgan Porterfield, Sr. a barber, and Mayme Edna Morgan. Throughout his childhood the Freeman family moved often, living in Mississippi, Indiana and Chicago. Freeman showed early promise as an actor but turned down a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University to enter the United States Air Force in 1955.
Throughout the early 1960s, after leaving the Air Force, Freeman studied acting and dance in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. It was in New York that Freeman made his professional theater debut with The Nigger Lovers, a 1967 off-Broadway play about the Civil Rights Era Freedom Riders. In 1971 Freeman broke into television, becoming widely known on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) children’s show The Electric Company, where he worked from 1971 to 1976.
Etheridge Knight took a very unconventional path on his way to becoming one of the most popular poets during the Black Arts Movement. America’s first introduction to Knight’s literary skills came with his first book publication, Poems from Prison in 1968. Mr. Knight’s troubled past and time in prison led to an unorthodox style of “street” language, drug culture vocabulary, and black slang that immediately separated him from other poets of the era.
Robert Louis Johnson, founder, chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Black Entertainment Television (BET), is also the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the first African American billionaire. He was born in Hickory, Mississippi in 1946 as the ninth of 10 children. After his family relocated to Freeport, Illinois, Johnson earned a Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Illinois in 1968. He also received a Masters in Public Administration from Princeton University in 1972.
Johnson then moved to Washington D.C. where he worked for both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Urban League. In 1976, Johnson became the vice president of governmental relations for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), an organization comprised of various cable television companies.
Johnson’s work with NCTA inspired him to develop television programming that was dedicated to African American viewers who at that time were unrecognized as a target audience group. He initially borrowed $15,000 from the president of the NCTA, Tom Wheeler, to fund his plan of gaining a black viewership in television. Later, he persuaded John Malone, the president of Telecommunications, Inc., to invest $500,000 in the project.
James Bevel was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most trusted advisors during the American Civil Rights campaigns of the mid-20th century. Bevel was born on October 19, 1936 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. During his childhood years, he resided in both Itta Bena and in Cleveland, Ohio working as a plantation laborer in the Mississippi town and as a steel mill worker in the Ohio metropolis.
In 1957 Bevel attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. Bevel dropped out of the seminary in 1961 to work in the civil rights movement. He also attended Highlander Folk School during this time where he met several other prominent civil rights leaders including his future wife, Diane Nash.
Bevel’s civil rights activism began in 1960 when he joined the student sit ins in Nashville. One year later he participated in the Freedom Rides across the Deep South. In 1962 Bevel met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as Director of Direct Action Campaigns and Director of Nonviolent Education.
Gloria Naylor, a major 20th century writer of African American literature, was born on January 25, 1950 in New York City to Roosevelt and Alberta Naylor. She was born just six weeks after her parents moved to the city from Robinsville, Mississippi, to escape the racially segregated South. It is that combination of her family's Southern roots and her on upbringing in the urban North that influenced her writing.
Naylor, an avid reader and writer in her teenage years, graduated with honors from Andrew Jackson High School in the Bronx, New York in 1968. She immediately went on a mission to North Carolina and Florida as required by her Jehovah's Witness faith. Returning to New York City in 1975, Naylor enrolled in Medgar Evers College where she studied nursing. Soon later transferred to Brooklyn College where she studied English.
Chester Arthur Burnett, better known by his stage name Howlin’ Wolf, was a blues performer and bandleader born in White Station, Mississippi to Leon "Dock" and Gertrude Young Burnett. He was married to Lillie Burnett and is survived by two stepchildren, Barbra Marks and Bettye Kelly.
After hearing and meeting Charlie Patton (sometimes spelled Charley), the most popular Delta blues performer at the time, Burnett decided to take up guitar and became a student of Patton. Burnett studied Patton’s music as well as his showmanship, and later traveled throughout the Delta performing with Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Willie Brown and other well-known Delta blues performers of the period. He was also influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, Tommy Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, among other performers.
Alan Gilbert, University of Denver political scientist and anti-racist activist, is the author of Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, one of the few works that examines the free and enslaved blacks who joined the American Patriots and the British during the American Revolution and the anti-racist whites who supported them. In the account below he describes the book and why he wrote it.
Marco McMillian was known primarily as the first openly-gay African American male to seek mayoral office as a Democrat in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi. On February 26, 2013, McMillian was found dead the age of 34, having been beaten, dragged, and burned.
Little is known about his family history. McMillian was born to Patricia Unger in Clarksdale in 1979. He graduated from Clarksdale High School in 1997 and went on to graduate magna cum laude from the W.E.B. DuBois Honors College at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. McMillian also earned a graduate degree from Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota in the area of philanthropy and development.
While living in Washington, D.C., McMillian served as an international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. where he was responsible for securing the first federal contract to raise the awareness of the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color. He also served as executive assistant to the President of Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University.
Younge was born on November 17, 1944 in Tuskegee, Alabama. His parents were educated professionals; Samuel Sr. was an occupational therapist, and Younge’s mother, Renee, was a schoolteacher. Unlike most black men in Macon County, Sammy Younge and his younger brother, Stephen (“Stevie”), grew up with middle class privileges and comforts.
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