James D. Lynch (1838-1872)

James D. Lynch statue
James Lynch monument, Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson, Mississippi, 2006
Photo by Natalie Maynor (CC BY 2.0)

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 Party Convention in Mississippi. By 1869, he had become the most prominent African American politician in Mississippi. After his nomination by the Republican Party and an exhaustive campaign, Lynch was elected secretary of state.

James D. Lynch soon became known for his interest in land policy, education, and the economic improvement of black freedmen. He was a champion of black rights but took a moderate stance in attaining those rights in order not to alienate white voters. He was reelected secretary of state in 1871 and in 1872 served as a delegate to the National Republican Convention in Philadelphia.

During his second term, however, Lynch and his black supporters became increasingly disillusioned with the Reconstruction process and especially the growing tension between black and white Republicans.  Lynch campaigned unsuccessfully for the Republican Party nomination for Congress.  Soon after, on December 18, 1872, he died at the age of 34 from kidney disease and a proceeding case of pneumonia. James D. Lynch was buried in the Greenwood cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi, after which the still Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill appropriating approximately $1,000 to the erection of a monument in his honor.