Thursday, March 15, 2007
History Month feature
In early 1862, the shackles of slavery came off of enslaved Africans living in Holly Springs, although slavery did not officially end until 1865. A day after the Confederate Army of 22,000 vacated the town; the Union Army of 42,000 began to arrive and took control of the town. The Union Army occupied the town and without delay began to liberate enslaved Africans by dismantling slavery, and thus changed the order of things. A great influx of African refugees left the surrounding plantations seeking freedom and came to Holly Springs. Most had suffered from being in the wake of two moving armies. They were destitute, hungry and eager to enjoy a new life behind federal lines as freed men, women and children.
A contraband camp with several thousand African refugees and freedmen was established near Camp Holly Springs on the east side of town near the Rising Star community. On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect freeing all enslaved Africans in the rebellious states of the South, including Mississippi. In Holly Springs, because of the large numbers of freedmen working on behalf of the Union cause and to sustain their freedom, military units were permanently stationed and remained in and around the town for nearly 15 years to protect them. For African-Americans, the federal presence in Holly Springs was the end of untold privations and hardships and the beginning of a state of freedom, which paved the way toward American citizenship.
Throughout the nineteenth century African-Americans in Holly Springs comprised the majority of its inhabitants. And because so many were present in the town and county, African-Americans’ cultural expressions have remained profoundly African in form and texture to the present day. One can still experience the remnants of African cultural attributes in the music, food, folk arts, language, dance and the verbal expressions such as singing, rapping, praying, preaching and conversations. At the same time, memories and relics of the cotton empire are still a part of the heritage of the town, which is filled with lavish mansions and homes with servant quarters, smoke houses and barns that are stark reminders for those interested in antebellum slaveholding culture. In the next part, we will discuss the creation of African-American social institutions and political culture in 19th century Holly Springs after Emancipation, much of which has lasted to the present day.
After the Emancipation of 1863
In the first part of this series, which covered from 1836 to 1862, the plight of African-Americans as an enslaved people in 19th century Holly Springs was discussed. In this second part, the period after Emancipation from 1863 to 1900 will be covered, which will conclude the history of African-Americans in 19th century Holly Springs.
In 1862, slavery ended in Holly Springs. That same year Ida B. Wells was born. However, slavery was not officially abolished in the United States until 1865. From November 1862, the Union Army occupied the city with a large force and used it as a base, largely to protect the rights of the African-American population in the region from the rising tide of violence and injustice experienced in other parts of the state. Once the city was secured in federal hands, aid and missionary organizations arrived to assist the freedmen and refugees as first responders, and provided this population with food, clothing and shelter. Beginning January 1, 1863, it became army policy to announce to all slaveholders in Holly Springs and the surrounding area that emancipation was a reality.
The city’s population in 1862 was 2,987; two-thirds were white (1,912) and one third of African descent (1,074); in 1863 the total population was three times that discounting the military presence. Within a decade the population shifted. In 1870, 2,406 inhabitants lived in Holly Springs and 1,500 were African-Americans. In 1878, when the Yellow Fever epidemic struck the town, the total population dropped drastically to 1,500 inhabitants. It went down to 1,200 African-Americans and 300 whites. While most whites fled the town, the vast majority of those who succumbed to the fever were African-Americans.
Against a backdrop of controversy, the presence of federal troops, northern missionaries and Republican Party leaders in Holly Springs, proved to be perfect for African-Americans to exercise a semblance of democratic freedom and their status began to change. Their northern hosts and liberators taught them the Constitutional guarantees and the administration of laws protecting individual rights now extended to them. They helped African-Americans to establish social institutions and organizations that both preserved their unique cultural gifts, families and heritage and also asserted their rights to be treated as equals. Nevertheless, to ensure such a democratic society that would allow African-Americans the full rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness without the threat of tyranny and violence soon proved impracticable and unthinkable.
Between 1863 and 1870, there were four major pieces of legislation that affected the freedom of African-Americans in Holly Springs and in the United States. First, the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed enslaved Africans in the rebellious states of the South midway through the Civil War and later those in other parts of the South after the war. Secondly, the 13th Amendment of 1865 ended slavery within the United States. Thirdly, the 14th Amendment of 1868 conferred citizenship on the newly freed Africans and no state could take away that privilege. And fourthly, the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted African-American men the right to vote in 1870, ninety-four years after the declaration that “All men are created equal.” It would be fifty years later before women - African-American and white - won the right to vote. In 1883, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1865, Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau to address all matters concerning refugees and freedmen with the intention to aid them in becoming independent, which tended to increase white anxiety. A district Freedmen Bureau was headquartered in Holly Springs to only handle the truly destitute, but almost all Mississippians – African-American and white - had a difficult time in the decade after the war. Many families worked and scrimped to help themselves with no government assistance. Many left the city looking for lost relatives and to escape the agonies brought on by the Civil War. African-American mothers and fathers looked to the Freedmen’s Bureau to help them regain their children and reunite their families. The bureau saw to it that African-Americans were paid fair wages for their labor, encouraged them to legally get married, to adopt a legal surname, to build churches and schools, to enter into rent and labor contracts, and to register to vote as never before.
The bureau promised that each freedman would be assigned “not more than forty acres” of abandoned or confiscated land as rental for three years and an option to purchase at the end of that time. After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, President Andrew Johnson gutted the policy, returned the land to the rebellious slaveholders, thus dashing the freedmen’s hopes of land ownership. There are some solid indications that a land redistribution program did occur in Marshall County, which partially explains the high number of African-American land owners in the county.
Many freedmen tried to gain and maintain their freedom without being demoralized by the uncertainty all around them. They were tormented by questions of their rights, survival and expectations and found their freedom being limited. For example, in 1865, the Mississippi Legislature issued the infamous Black Codes that attempted to control the economic and social life of the African-American majority population. It required all adult African-American males in the state to have a year-long labor contract with a white planter or risk being fined or jailed as a vagrant. Most contracts for labor involved some sort of sharecropping arrangement. Those living in Holly Springs had to sign a contract with white merchants or manufacturers in order to escape imprisonment.
Although the Reconstruction Era began at the end of the Civil War, it was a brief transitional period between 1863 and 1877 where military, political and African-American leaders governed simultaneously in the South to try and reconstruct an integrated and a more democratic society, a society where the two races – African-Americans and White-Americans - would share in political and economic affairs based on a true call for democracy. In Holly Springs African-Americans acquired and came to believe deeply in the democratic discourse to which whites claimed an allegiance.
But the battle between whites from the North and South to control and influence the newly freed men and women escalated. On the one hand, northerners in Holly Springs wanted to be seen as the liberators and protectors of African-Americans. They tried to convince the freedmen of their sincerity by forming political organizations and getting them to vote for their candidates and causes. On the other hand, southerners assured them of the questionable characters of the arriving Yankees and of their own genuine concern for the welfare of all the freedmen. By the same token, these southerners wanted to constrain the freedom and activities of African-Americans. It took a while for African-Americans to have any confidence in white Mississippians supporting them. Therefore, support did favor the white northerners who helped the freedmen challenge the infamous Black Codes of 1865 and other unfair laws.
There was hardly a phase of life in which freed persons did not choose to sunder their connections with the world of white Holly Springians. The most obvious withdrawal occurred in the churches. Before the war, enslaved Africans worshiped with whites in the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist and Baptist churches of the city, but were required to sit in balcony seating or at the rear of the church. After the war the efforts of evangelical missionaries from the northern churches and African-Americans’ desire to control their own worship services led to the creation of all-African-American congregations.
There were only three African-American churches in Holly Springs during the 19th century and they evolved into thriving centers of community activities. They were Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church North, Hopewell Baptist Church and Anderson Chapel Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church with the Rev. Moses Adams as its first pastor, was organized in 1866. It was located on Gholson Ave. south of downtown and moved to its present location on College Ave. in 1901. Hopewell Baptist Church was established in 1868 in Butts Alley, an African-American section of town near Maury Street. The Rev. Daniel Abbott was its first minister. The church moved in 1871 to Bonner Street on land donated by Sherwood Bonner, a white Holly Springs socialite.
Anderson Chapel Colored Methodist Church was organized in 1879. This church had pulled out from the southern white branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was part of the newly all-African-American Colored Methodist Episcopal Church denomination established in 1870. The church was named after its founding pastor, the Reverend Isaac H. Anderson. It was first located near the “Bone Yard” on College Ave. next door to the city park on West Boundary. The church moved to a beautiful ediface on Memphis Street in 1903 and to its present location on Martin Luther King Drive in 1988. Anderson Chapel became the mother church to Mississippi Industrial College founded in 1905 by Bishop Elias Cottrell.
Two important African-American church organizations were developed in the city: the Holly Springs Missionary Baptist Association in 1872 with 28 Baptist churches, and the Upper Mississippi Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church organized in Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in 1891 with more than 17,000 church members.
For African-Americans, Holly Springs holds a major place of importance in Mississippi history as the first center of African-American education. It appears that former enslaved African-Americans in Holly Springs and throughout the South emerged from the slave period with a strong desire to read and write and to control their own education. For them, literacy was a way out of their impoverished status and a way to gain a better life. As early as 1862, a school operated in the Holly Springs Contraband Camp for African-American soldiers, and children learned how to read and write. The reported teachers were white Union soldiers and missionaries.
The Freedmen’s Bureau provided money to various aid and missionary societies to establish elementary schools for African-Americans and poor whites. It built over 40 schools in Marshall County between 1865 and 1870, three for the freedmen in Holly Springs. Most of the teachers in these early schools were northern whites and a few African-Americans; the pool of southern white teachers had refused to teach the newly freedmen.
By 1880 all were taught by African-American teachers who had attended either Shaw University (now Rust College) or the Mississippi State Normal School in Holly Springs. An 1890 state law prohibited any white person from teaching African-American children in the public schools of Mississippi.
The city’s first public school for African-American children was made available in 1870 shortly after the state public school system was established. It was first called City Public School and in 1871 it was called Miller’s Institute housed in a renovated two-story jail and jailor’s dwellings located behind where Carlisle’s Big Star is today. According to Belle Caruthers, the school had been formed from two private schools created for African-American children in Holly Springs: Asbury School established in Asbury Methodist Church in 1866 and Hopewell School located in Hopewell Baptist Church organized in 1868. Organized in 1867, and perhaps one of the most popular schools for African-Americans was Gill School located at the outskirts of Holly Springs on Hernando Road. Students attending this school were considered “above average” and many were recruited to teach in the fledging public school system in the county during the 1860s and 1870s. At the time, African-American and white teachers were permitted to teach school with only a minimum of an eighth grade education. Shaw University was the first public or private university for African-Americans in Mississippi, established by the Methodist Episcopal Church North in the city in 1866. It developed into a comprehensive educational institution with an elementary, secondary and college department. The first two African-Americans to graduate from any Mississippi university did so from this university in 1878. The Mississippi State Normal School, an outgrowth of Shaw University, was established in Holly Springs to train African-American teachers for the state’s new public school system in 1870. This state-supported school was located where Holy Family School is today. Baptist College and Mississippi Industrial College in the city were not established until the first decade of the 20th century. These schools led to an African-American professional class populated by teachers, physicians and lawyers who lived the city to the present day.
The Reconstruction Act of 1867 brought for the first time African-Americans into the political arena in Holly Springs and the South. This act was designed to transform the social and political elements of the Old South and offer immediate protection and opportunities for inclusion of the newly freed African-Americans in a New South. Republicans and Democrats alike competed profusely for the African-American vote and promised almost anything to get it. Alexander Phillips was the first African-American appointed to serve as a Public School Board Director (member) for Holly Springs/Marshall County in 1870. In 1871, African-Americans had 350 of the 552 registered voters in Holly Springs. Two men, Logan Gorman and Mack Hill were the first African-Americans elected to the Board of Aldermen in Holly Springs in 1871. Hiram Revels became the first African-American elected to serve in the United Senate in 1870 after a close ballot race with Republican, Judge J. W. C. Watson of Marshall County.
George Washington Albright was the first African-American to serve in the Mississippi Senate from Marshall County; he was elected twice: 1874 and 1878. To achieve this, he had defeated a young E. H. Crump in 1873 that later moved to Memphis, Tennessee and became the city’s mayor and a successful political boss. Ben Phillips served on the county board of Registrars, while Joseph Tunstall, Jerry Dean and Anthony Tate served terms on the Board of Supervisors. Seven African-Americans served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from Marshall County between 1872 and 1883. They were Robert Cunningham, James Hill, Alfred Peel, A. A. Rodgers, G. C. Shelby, Adam Simpson, and R. Williams.
African-Americans in Holly Springs established several mutual aid societies, political and social-oriented organizations for themselves. African-American secret societies and local “coffin clubs” grew in strength during this decade to counter an incipient threat from the white supremacists. Among them were the Loyal or Union League, the Freedman’s Aid Society, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, the Free African Society, the Elks, the Emancipated Order, Knights and Daughters of Tabor and several Masonic organizations. Over the years these organizations helped African-Americans to run for public office, build schools, colleges, churches, and organize a host of civic and social organizations. They also raised funds for various charities. During political seasons, these social organizations would gather and have long daylight and torchlight parades around town with their pageantry and colorful regalia in support of the Republican or Democratic ticket. These parades were a show of political might and overwhelming strength expressed for those who had aided them in their freedom and for that they would surely elect.
In 1875 the political fate of African-American changed in Holly Springs and the South fraught with many problems. Segregation and the enduring violence to enforce it, reigned unchecked on African-Americans for nearly a hundred years. Violence became commonplace throughout the rest of the 19th century. The federal troops stationed at Holly Springs had been withdrawn in 1877 and trouble to disenfranchise African-American brewed all across the South. African-Americans were threatened with violence when they attempted to vote. In Holly Springs, Tyler Williamson, an African-American Republican, was murdered on the square after a dispute with a disgruntled Irish plantation overseer. Several African-American leaders were run out of town, and sharecroppers were being grossly cheated and abused.
Historian Adam Fairclough contends that after the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877, northerners and the Republican Party “had lost faith in the capacity of black people to rise to the level of whites” therefore, giving northern whites reasons for acquiescing in the disfranchisement of African-American voters and allowing the ill treatment they received. Historian Buford Satcher perhaps gave the best assessment when he said that: “Reconstruction did not end in Mississippi during Democratic return to the state government in 1875, nor did it end when occupation troops were withdrawn altogether from the South in 1877…it did end in great part for Blacks as voters and office holders…when the federal government upheld the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, the same constitution that was never ratified by the people…”
By 1890, African-Americans had been disenfranchised as voters in Holly Springs when the Mississippi Legislature passed new voting laws. There was a powerful hidden construct unleashed thereby countering the idea of an “inclusive society” and derailing any long-term goal for African-Americans and white southerners to live together. Jim Crowism – another term for laws and practices governing African-Americans – became a tradition of corrupt and shameful attempts to deprive African-Americans of their constitutional, social and economic rights, which threatened their livelihood and very existence. The 19th century ended with a mixture of opportunities and hopelessness, but the African-American community in Holly Springs emerged a wiser community because of its travails.
To be continued:
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