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Fri, 05.21.1847

Isaiah Montgomery born

Isaiah Montgomery

*Isaiah Montgomery was born on this date in 1847.  He was a Black politician, administrator and civil right activist. 

Born into slavery, he was the son of Ben Montgomery, a slave whose owner, Joseph Davis, promoted him to overseer. The younger Montgomery learned to read and write due to his father's influential position on the Davis Bend plantation. Davis wanted to establish a more positive working environment for slaves and encouraged education.  Following the end of the American Civil War, Montgomery began a business with his father. It lasted until Ben's death in 1877.

His father had long dreamed of establishing an independent Black colony; by the time of his death, the Reconstruction era had ended, and Blacks struggled to maintain themselves against Jim Crow and white supremacists. After his father's death, Montgomery worked to realize his father's dream. With his cousin Benjamin T. Green, he bought property in the northwest frontier of Mississippi Delta bottomlands to found Mound Bayou in 1887.  Bolivar County was the largest in area in the Delta. As farmers cleared land, they started cultivating cotton. 

Montgomery worked to gain freedmen protection of the law, and to keep their work and lives separate from supervision by whites. He participated in the 1890 Mississippi constitutional convention but was unable to prevent adoption of a state constitution that effectively disfranchised Black voters for decades, using poll taxes and literacy tests to raise barriers to voter registration. Montgomery was thought to promote an accommodationist position for Blacks, which was sometimes thought of his colleague on race matters, Booker T. Washington, who became head of the Tuskegee Institute.  Soon elected mayor, he was an active Republican politician. 

In what the Washington Post termed "A Notable Address Delivered by the Colored Statesman," Frederick Douglass gave a speech in October 1890 before the Bethel Literary and Historical Society of Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. He strongly condemned Montgomery's stance regarding suffrage in Mississippi. Douglass had spoken of Montgomery numerous times before and on the occasion cited his position as an act of "treason, to the cause of the colored people, not only of his own state, but of the United States," referring to the effect Montgomery's act would have in other states. He also lamented having heard in Montgomery "a groan of bitter anguish born of oppression and despair" and a voice of a "soul from which all hope had vanished."  Isaiah T. Montgomery died on March 5, 1924.

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