After the Civil War formerly enslaved African Americans created opportunities to manifest their freedom even in an inhospitable and racist nation. Some Black people searched for and acquired their own property, created their own municipalities, and built all-Black towns and institutions. In the 1870s, Exodusters led by Pap Singleton sought to develop Black villages in different locations seen as promising, including Kansas.
By 1887 Isaiah T. Montgomery and his cousin Benjamin T. Green bought 840 acres of swampland in the Mississippi Delta. The two men were formerly enslaved by Joseph P. Davis, brother of Confederate President Jefferson E. Davis. After the war, Joseph sold the land of Davis Bend to Benjamin Montgomery, and the site became a community of formerly enslaved African Americans. As hard times fell upon the group, Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin Green ventured beyond Davis Bend and established Mound Bayou, the nation’s first incorporated and self-governed all-Black town, populated by many of the free Black people who left Davis Bend. The town included several homes, businesses, churches, schools, and a Carnegie library. It was a thriving site of Black success and entrepreneurship. Mound Bayou was recognized by local and national figures, including Booker T. Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, who dubbed it “the Jewel of the Delta.”