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What is: Second Home of Isaiah Montgomery, 1919, Mound Bayou, Mississippi

What was: Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed Mound Bayou “The Jewel of the Delta.”  Booker T. Washington praised it as a model of “thrift and self-government.”  Mound Bayou, in the Mississippi Delta: a town founded in 1887 by former slaves, with a vision that was revolutionary for its time — from the start, it was designed to be a self-reliant, autonomous, all-black community.

Isaiah Thornton Montgomery was an African American leader best known for founding the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He was born into enslavement on the Hurricane plantation, owned by Joseph Davis, the brother of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis. During the war, his parents fled North, Isaiah remained on the vessel they fled north on and became cabin boy for the Union’s naval Admiral. After the war, he and his parents returned to the area and began to successfully farm land they had formerly worked as slaves but now controlled as freed people. In 1867, Benjamin and Isaiah Montgomery raised $300,000 to purchase Hurricane and Brierfield plantations from a nearly destitute Joseph E. Davis.

By 1877 hardening racial politics, falling cotton prices and flooding sent the farm operation into decline.  In 1887, Montgomery and his cousin Benjamin Green and a group of others co-founded the town of Mound Bayou in the Yazoo Delta in Northwest Mississippi

Its economy depended on the production of cotton, timber, and corn, and being an agent for the Louisville, New Orleans, and Texas Railroad. Socially, Mound Bayou had an exceptionally low crime rate, high morals (i.e., no gambling or sale of alcohol), and everyone had to be a useful member of the community. Through outlets like the town’s newspaper, The Demonstrator (1900), Mound Bayou promoted education as an essential path to community survival, in particular vocational education in scientific agriculture through the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute. From 1907 to 1915, this infrastructure, along with Mound Bayou’s function as a railroad center, allowed it to flourish and grow to 8,000 people by 1911. Its noticeable decline occurred during the Great Migration period (1915-1930) (Source: Blackpast.org)

Isaiah Montgomery was Mound Bayou’s patriarch, protecting it from white terrorism through political cooperation with white supremacist politicians and businessmen. In 1890, for example, while serving as the only black delegate to the Mississippi Constitutional Convention, he publicly endorsed the disenfranchisement of 123,000 black voters, hoping to trade their rights for protection for Mound Bayou from neighboring white encroachments and violence. Source: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/montgomery-isaiah-1847-1924/

For decades, Mound Bayou thrived and prospered. The town also became known as a haven from the virulent racism of the Jim Crow South.  “It’s almost like it was an inverted or alternate universe, where being black was a positive thing,” says Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University (Source: https://www.npr.org/2017/03/08/515814287/heres-whats-become-of-a-historic-all-black-town-in-the-mississippi-delta#:~:text=Mound%20Bayou%2C%20in%20the%20Mississippi,for%20empowering%20its%20black%20citizens.).

Mound Bayou still exists today as a predominantly black town in Mississippi with a population of 1534, 98.6 percent total black population. Visit: https://www.moundbayoumuseum.com/