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Mound Bayou, Mississippi, was founded in 1887 by ex-slaves Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin Green. Mound Bayou was one of the first all black settlements in the United States. Mound Bayou is important because it provided a place for blacks to live without fear of segregation or oppression. In Mound Bayou, blacks could be doctors, lawyers, or school superintendents. In the rest of the Delta, the only chance most blacks had for employment was manual labor, or other unskilled tasks. As such, Mound Bayou was called “the jewel of the Delta.”Medgar Evers moved to Mound Bayou and worked there after college selling insurance door-to-door. It was Evers’ experience of walking door-to-door and seeing the absolute poverty blacks were subjected to in the region that inspired Evers to do civil rights work.
Gong Lum v. Rice
(1927) Gong Lum v. Rice was the case arising from a suit filed by a Chinese-American immigrant attempting to enroll in an all-white school in Rosedale. Martha Lum, the nine year old student filing suit, attempted to enroll in Rosedale Consolidated School in 1927. The Court upheld the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson by ruling that Rosedale Consolidated School had a constitutional right to maintain a “separate but equal”school system. Gong Lum v. Rice was an important case in establishing “separate but equal”for all races, not just black and white. Segregation was ruled unconstitutional with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Moore was a postal worker as well as a businessman. Moore owned and operated a filling station on Highway 61 that was one of the few gas station blacks traveling from Memphis to Vicksburg could patron without being harassed.
In addition to his businesses, Moore also organized the NAACP in Cleveland in 1955 and served as its president. Moore also housed SNCC workers and other activists that would come through the area at his home. Moore’s home was also used to plan movement operations in the area.
Amzie Moore helped establish the neighborhoods in Cleveland that are known as Eastgate. Eastgate was formerly a huge tract of plantation land that now houses hundreds of black families and is home to East Side High School, Cleveland’s majority-black public high school. Moore also helped establish the Head Start Program in Bolivar County.
In 2001, Cleveland named what was once Shady Grove Park “Amzie Moore Park”in honor of the civil rights hero. A marble slab exists with Moore’s history on it. See also http://www.fannielouhamer.info/a_moore.
Interview with Amzie Moore’s son on April 20, 2006.
Duncan Gray used his position as Episcopal priest to champion civil rights causes. Duncan Gray was the priest in Cleveland when the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was issued. He openly stated from the pulpit that segregation was “un-Christian.”
Gray would later go on to fame as the Chaplain to Episcopal students of Ole Miss when James Meredith integrated the university. Gray was on the steps of the Lyceum urging calm and tolerance on the night of Meredith’s enrollment and the ensuing riot.
Howard, Dr. T.R.M.
Dr. Howard was a physician and prominent businessman in the 1940s and 1950s. Dr. Howard was the chief surgeon at the Knights and Daughters of Tabor Hospital located near Mound Bayou. Dr. Howard also opened the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company in Mound Bayou as a way to provide insurance to poor blacks in the region. The Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company was one of the first black insurance companies in the state.
In addition to his various occupations, Howard was an avid civil rights activist. In the ’40s, along with Amzie Moore, Howard organized a gathering at Delta State called the Cotton Pickers’ Jubilee that 10,000 blacks from the area attended. This event would serve as the beginning of civil rights work and activism in the county.
Howard also founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in Cleveland in 1951. The RCNL grew strong in Cleveland, and it served an organizational role like that of the modern day NAACP. A great deal of work in the area that would come later occurred as a result of the planning and labor that went on in the RCNL.
Dittmer, John. “Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi.”University of Illinois Press: 1994.