• U.S.

RACES: Mound Bayou

5 minute read

Bolivar County lies down on the rich delta lands of Mississippi opposite the mouth of the Arkansas River. In 1887, when the track of what is now the dinky Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad was laid, Bolivar’s rich bottomlands were an uninhabited jungle. The railroad, eager for customers along the route, but fearing that white men would die off under the hot summer sun, decided to try Negroes. Isaiah T. Montgomery, a onetime slave of Jefferson Davis, and his cousin Benjamin T. Green were induced to start a colony. Thus was founded the town of Mound Bayou. Last week every day was carnival in Mound Bayou, for it was celebrating its 50th anniversary as a self-governing 100% Negro community.

Mound Bayou had something well worth celebrating. Since the colonists moved in, usually paying $7 an acre for their land ($1 down and the rest in five equal annual installments), they have come a long way. Mound Bayou proper now has about 800 inhabitants, the entire colony about 8.000 colonists and 30,000 acres under cultivation, rich lands which for the most part produce premium long-staple cotton. Today the eldest daughter of Isaiah Montgomery, Mrs. Eugene P. Booze, is Republican National Committeewoman for Mississippi. Mayor Benjamin A. Green, a son of Founder Green and the first child born in Mound Bayou, is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Not one but two celebrations were put on for Mound Bayou’s golden anniversary, one by Mayor Green, the other by Mrs. Booze’s husband. First was the mayor’s celebration, beginning on Sunday, with six Negro preachers participating in Memorial Services for the Founders, carrying on at 12:05 a. m. that night with a breakfast dance in the Casino Ballroom over Henry Bolton’s store, a speech by the eminent Negro Statesman Roscoe Conkling Simmons (familiar to all attendants at Republican National Conventions), and a showing of motion pictures of the fight of the century: Joe Louis beating World Champion James J. Braddock (25¢ admission). And so on to Friday.

Mr. Booze’s celebration lasted all week too, backed by the Mound Bayou Foundation and white American Legion posts of neighboring towns.*

He had a Jesse Owens Day, which he characterized simply as “the most colorful of all days.” It was Mr. Booze’s birthday. Sprinter Owens gave Mississippi’s champion high-school sprinter, Berkeil Naylor of Cleveland, Miss, (white), a five-yard handicap, beat him easily. Mr. Booze’s No. 2 attraction was an Aviator, Colonel John C. Robinson, “the Brown Condor of Ethiopia,”* who landed at the Mound Bayou Airport with Mrs. Annie M. Turnbo Malone, president of Chicago’s Negro Poro College.

The illustrated 60-page anniversary program put out by Mayor Green graphically summed up Mound Bayou’s history:

Pioneer Days. “The early pioneers faced many hardships. . . . Their companions were forest bears, panthers, deer, wolves, wildcats and raccoons. The hoot of the owl drifting on the nocturnal air above the drone of countless insects and the croaking of frogs made the night forbidding. . . . [One pioneer’s account] : ‘On one occasion I was out with some other gentlemen, John Montgomery, Morgan Thurston and Alex Wilbert in search of a hog which I owned and which was missing, when we were brought face to face with a large she bear and two small cubs.’ ”

New Deal Days. “Mound Bayou counts among its business, professional and industrial enterprises, two gins, three blacksmith shops, one garage, one tailor, two restaurants, five service stations, two contractors, two doctors, one dentist, one lawyer, one grist mill, one saw mill, two undertakers.† twelve groceries, and meat markets, one drugstore, one 5¢ & 10¢ store, one billiard parlor, one barber shop, one gun & locksmith and one newspaper. . . . Our municipal government is stable. Its wisdom is attested by the fact that many needed improvements have been foregone to prevent its citizens from being burdened with debts. The outstanding obligations of the municipality are less than $12,000. We have no jail because we don’t need one. In the entire community dwell 8,000 Negroes and we have not had a capital crime in 13 years. . . . The citizens of Mound Bayou dwell in security. They are the heirs of freedom . . . and will forever look with disdain on acts of tyranny.”

*Fifty Mound Bayouans enlisted during the War. All returned home, several severely wounded.

*Not to be confused with Hubert Fauntleroy Julian. “The Black Eagle of Harlem” who also flew in Ethiopia. “Brown Condor” Robinson went to Ethiopia as a newshawk, became Haile Selassie’s personal pilot.

†The Delta Burial Corp. advertises in the Anniversary program: “Persons from the age of 21 to 45, for the small sum of 25? per month, are eligible for the following service: Semi Half Couch Casket and Box. Embalming, Robe and Hearse Service anywhere in the State of Mississippi. . . . We are in a position to have four funerals a day, with each 200 miles apart, and have each of them at the same hour.”

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