January 12, 2018 - Vol. 1, Issue 17
Mound Bayou, Mississippi:
The Rise and Fall of a Segregated Township 12
Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr.
Harold Pates
Val Gray Ward
Actress and director Val Gray Ward talks about the town of Mound Bayou, her childhood home in the Mississippi Delta, where “Black people--even today--own so much of the land.” 1 [Val Gray Ward, THMDA 1.2.4]. Founded in 1887, “Mound Bayou was one of a number of African American settlements established during the post-Reconstruction period” by pioneers “Isaiah Thornton Montgomery and his cousin Benjamin Green, slaves of the Jefferson Davis family,” 2 notes Shelley Mastran in Your Town:Mississippi Delta.

Alice Moore Dunbar, in Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence: 1818-1913 , argues that this self-imposed segregation during the Jim Crow era “proved to be simultaneously a curse and a perverse ‘blessing,’ in that racial restrictions that forced blacks to the margins of white society also created small markets that could support Negro enterprises. Black-owned banks, grocery stories, funeral parlors, and barber shops soon proliferated inside black areas, serving and sustained by the African American consumer market.” 3

Activist and Mound Bayou native Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr. speaks to the economic and social benefits of Mound Bayou’s existence as an all-black township: “We built our own schools. We organized and built our own hospitals. All of our quote, municipal agencies and governments… we had everything except a jailhouse. We didn’t need it those days, because it was a real community of people who reinforced certain moral values and a belief system and so forth. We had our own banks, which means that we had our own economic base. In those days, it was agriculture. And we owned our own land, and farmed it and traded among ourselves. We built our own cotton gins so that we could turn the money around, over and over in the town. So, the town grew and grew well. I don’t think it ever grew over ten thousand people… You know, I did not realize truly that white people ran America until I left my little hometown. Can you imagine what kind of a culture shock that was? Because you were raised with a sense of ownership, with a sense of self-determination, and a sense of affirmation in terms of who you were as a person.” 4 [Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr., THMDA 1.1.4].

Shana Walton and Barbara Carpenter also talk about the strength of the Mound Bayou’s communal foundation in Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi: The Twentieth Century: “The intent was for the Mound Bayou community to be a self-segregated, self-sufficient railroad town with a strong industrial and commercial base. The pioneers wished to create a haven for African Americans in the midst of white-controlled cotton plantations. Isaiah Montgomery fervently believed that the only way for African Americans to succeed in the late post-bellum period was through self-segregation and by proving to whites that they could govern themselves and produce commodities that whites as well as African Americans would buy.” 5 Carol V.R. George agrees in One Mississippi, Two Mississippi: Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County, stating that economic freedom also informed other liberties shared by the townspeople: “So-called voluntary segregation had an appeal for some freed people, who assumed that segregation would be a way of life in their area, and thought they might have an advantage in planning how it would be implemented. Mound Bayou announced voluntary black separatism rather than enforced segregation, and welcomed residents who accepted the sacrifice of their votes in exchange for what they promised would be a fair and equitable application of the law in their community by the state’s white officials.” 6

In his interview with The HistoryMakers, educator and activist Harold Pates , describes other benefits, in addition to those that were economic or politically motivated, of settling in a self-segregated community. Such advantages were related to him by his father, Squire Pates, who was raised in Mound Bayou: “You see, many people assumed that our people moved into the black towns for self-defense. Well that’s partially true, it’s also true that there was a common culture amongst us. And that culture was fortified by the fact that when you stepped outside of that, you were in the midst of unpredictable hostility. You never knew. Now, understand: the State of Mississippi was one of the most popular Ku Klux Klan states.” 7 [Harold Pates, THMDA 1.2.7] 

Louis R. Harlan in Booker T. Washington: Volume 2: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915 , however, argued that Mound Bayou was destined for failure: “Self-help and racial solidarity in the substandard status that blacks held in America were no basis on which a viable economy or a genuinely independent community could develop. The white supremacy atmosphere of the surrounding region choked the life out of the isolated and struggling town.” 8 Karen Kruse Thomas also speaks negatively of the town’s vested interest in segregation in Deluxe Jim Crow: Civil Rights and American Health Policy, 1935-1954, where s she notes that even by the late 1940s, “The NAACP blocked proposed new all-black VA hospitals in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and Franklin County, Virginia, as perpetuating segregation rather than expanding black opportunity.” 9
Following the Great Migration, at a continuous pace, the population and vibrancy of Mound Bayou, Mississippi began to decline steadily. Even by 1978, Lois Steward, writing for the magazine Black Enterprise , remarked that the town was marked by an “eighty year tradition of struggle waged by its 3,500 residents who fought to keep the town alive as they watched many of their talented young people flee, escaping to cities, such as Chicago, in search of jobs and a better life.” 10

Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr. , however, disagrees. In his interview, he emphasized his commitment to the historic township, which he believes is due for revitalization: “The first judge I saw was black…the first banker I saw was a black…the first schoolteacher I saw was black. I mean everything, our whole environment was this way. So, you grew up with a sense of real history and a real story that you can pass on to your own children. And so, there is a sense of great pride on the part of Mound Bayouans. I wish we were more actively involved in the life of the town at this stage. I think those of us who left in the 1960s, which is my generation, we need to be returning to that town, which I plan to do after I retire.” 11 [Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr., THMDA 1.1.7].


The HistoryMakers Archive in Action
Dominican University 13
At Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, professors from a variety of disciplines, including history, science, theology and sociology, are incorporating the digital archive into their course curricula this year. 

In From Jim Crow to the White House: The African American Experience Since 1877, a course offered through the history department, students will work in groups to present on an aspect of post-1950s era African American history that they find interesting. To fulfill the assignment, each group will feature at least three HistoryMakers interviews. 

For the course Organic Chemistry I, in the chemistry department, students will spend several days exploring the life and career of chemist  Samuel Massie . Massie was instrumental in the Manhattan Project at Iowa State University's Ames Laboratory, where, as a doctoral student, he worked under the supervision of chemist Henry Gilman to develop uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb. Massie speaks to this experience in his interview, which The HistoryMakers conducted in 2003.

In Dominican University's Department of Sociology and Criminology, a course titled Social Change: Race, Gender and Social Class will have students use The HistoryMakers interviews as a proxy for ethnographic research. For this first major project of the semester, students will relate the stories of individual HistoryMakers to the larger social environment that they inhabited.

We are thrilled that Dominican University faculty are making impressive use of the digital archive, and we look forward to hearing about the students' reception.

Please share with us your stories of how you incorporate The HistoryMakers Digital Archive in your curriculum and research! We'd love to hear from you!


"I Think We've Made it Happen"
The HistoryMakers Celebrates Earl G. Graves, Sr. 14

Born on January 9, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, noted publishing executive Earl Graves celebrated his eighty-third birthday this past week.

Graves received his B.S. degree in economics from Morgan State University in 1958. Following a brief career as a real estate agent, he spent three years working with Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In the early 1970s, Graves decided to start a newsletter which would be the precursor to Black Enterprise magazine.

Since founding Black Enterprise, Graves helped foster the growth of a vibrant African American business community. Reflecting upon his vision for Black Enterprise, Graves remarked, “My vision for the magazine was to literally be a how-to magazine for the black community that talked about how you do business, how you make it in your profession, management skills and the like, and I think we've made that happen with an A+” 15 [Earl G. Graves, Sr., THMDA 1.3.4].

Graves has also authored the bestseller How to Succeed in Business Without Being White and has received numerous awards for his business successes and civic contributions.In 2007, he was inducted in the U.S. Business Hall of Fame. 16

This week, 12 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Gene Barge

Saxophonist, songwriter, and music producer Gene Barge (1926 - ) played on Chuck Willis’ pop hit, “C.C. Rider,” co-wrote with Gary U.S. Bonds “Quarter to Three” and received a Grammy Award for co-producing Natalie Cole’s “Sophisticated Lady.”
Romance Watson

Singer Romance Watson (1930 - ) was a member of the Roberta Martin Singers, a gospel music group.
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

African american history professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (1945 - ) served as the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African American Studies and chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.
Barbara Ransby

History professor and african american studies professor Barbara Ransby (1957 - ) joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1996 and was the author of the book, 'Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement'.
Gene Harris

School superintendent Gene Harris (1953 - ) oversaw the Columbus City Schools from 2001 to 2013.
Ollie Taylor

Elementary school teacher Ollie Taylor (1937 - ) taught elementary school students for twenty-eight years.
The Honorable Sylvester Turner

Mayor, state representative, and lawyer The Honorable Sylvester Turner (1954 - ) represented district 139 in the Texas House of Representatives from 1988 to 2016, when he became the mayor of Houston, Texas. He also founded the law firm of Barnes and Turner LLP.
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton

U.S. congresswoman The Honorable Eva M. Clayton (1934 - ) was the first black woman elected to U.S. Congress from North Carolina, serving with distinction for ten years as an advocate for programs for disadvantaged African Americans and rural and agricultural interests in her district.
The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr.

Mayor The Honorable A C Wharton, Jr. (1944 - ) was elected Mayor of the City of Memphis, Tennessee in 2009. He was also the first black mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee and the first African American law professor at the University of Mississippi.
Vivian R. Jones

Community leader Vivian R. Jones (1948 - ) founded Annie B. Jones Community and Family Services, Inc., which provided comprehensive social services to more than 5,000 people each year.
Lewis E. Dodley

Motivational speaker and youth advocate Lewis E. Dodley (1940 - ) was an expert on youth violence and drug prevention. He founded the SIMBA Circle, an Afrocentric rites of passage program for young African American men.

Hiram Jackson

Entrepreneur and publisher Hiram Jackson (1965 - ) was the CEO of Real Times Media, LLC and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle.

1.     Val Gray Ward (The HistoryMakers A2002.077), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 2, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Val Gray Ward talks about the history of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pt. 2
2.     Shelley Mastran, Your Town: Mississippi Delta. Your Town—Designing Its Future (Project), National Endowment for the Arts. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.
3.     Alice Moore Dunbar, Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence: 1818-1913. Courier Corporation, June 18, 2013.
4.     Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2003.294), interviewed by Larry Crowe, December 11, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 4, Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr. talks about the history of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pt. 1
5.     Shana Walton, Barbara Carpenter. Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi: The Twentieth Century . University Press of Mississippi. February 9, 2012.
6.     Carol V.R. George, One Mississippi, Two Mississippi: Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County. Oxford University Press, 2015.
7.     Harold Pates (The HistoryMakers A2005.263), interviewed by Larry Crowe, December 12, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 7, Harold Pates describes his father's community in Mound Bayou, Mississippi
8.     Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: Volume 2: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915. Oxford University Press, April 28, 1983.
9.     Karen Kruse Thomas, Deluxe Jim Crow: Civil Rights and American Health Policy, 1935-1954. University of Georgia Press, 2011.
10. Lois Steward, “Mount Bayou: After the Hard Times.” Black Enterprise. June 1978.
11. Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2003.294), interviewed by Larry Crowe, December 11, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 7, Reverend B. Herbert Martin, Sr. talks about the influence of Mound Bayou, Mississippi on Chicago, Illinois
12. Banner Photo: Social_Stratification/Flickr. Can be found at:
13. Dominican University. Can be found at:
14. Earl G. Graves, Sr. Can be found at:
15. Earl G. Graves, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2000.023), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, December 18, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 4, Earl Graves talks about his original vision for 'Black Enterprise' magazine

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