Mound Bayou, Mississippi – The Jewel of the Delta
Yesterday, StoryCorps Griot traveled south on old Route 61 into Mississippi to record interviews in Mound Bayou. The city, proudly described by local residents as “Jewel of the Delta,” is the oldest all black municipality in the United States. It was founded in 1887 by Isaiah T. Montgomery and his cousin, Benjamin T. Green. Montgomery and Green were both former slaves of Joseph Davis, brother of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Isaiah T. Montgomery was elected as the first mayor. He started a tradition of black government that persists to the present day. Mound Bayou was founded to serve as a sanctuary for African- American families and culture. The Founders helped to make the dream of creating a successful, self-sufficient and cooperative community of freedmen a reality. By the turn of the century Mound Bayou was exporting $30,000 in cotton a year. Its residents owned 5,000 acres of rich, prime farm and timber land, with an estimated worth of $20,000.
Mound Bayou was an oasis in turbulent times.
While the rest of Mississippi was violently segregated, inside the city there were no racial codes. The train station depot was the only exception. Delta residents received medical attention and mothers safely and successfully gave birth to their children at Taborian Hospital, a state of the art medical facility, built with support by Tufts University Medical Center. Medgar Evers sold insurance here, before becoming National Field Secretary of the NAACP. Maime Till stayed in Mound Bayou while in Mississippi for the trial of the savage killing of her son, Emmett Till. At a time when blacks faced repercussions as severe as death for registering to vote, Mound Bayou residents were casting ballots in every election. The city has a proud history of banks, credit unions, insurance companies, a hospital, five newspapers, and a variety of businesses owned, operated, and patronized by black residents.
Mound Bayou is a crowning achievement in the struggle for self-determination and economic empowerment. Many grateful thanks to participant Eulah L. Peterson, PhD., Mound Bayou Alderwoman and Vice Mayor, for inviting StoryCorps Griot to her historic city.
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