Public Schools of Reconstruction Mississippi
James D. Lynch

At the period which we are now discussing, the State superintendent of education was a negro of the most vicious character, and the example set by the chief seems to have been followed, as a fixed policy, by every subordinate in the entire system. Of which a better description cannnot be given, perhaps, than that set forth in the testimony of the Hon. J. A. Campbell, at that time one of the judges of the supreme court of the State, before the Mississippi investigating committee at Jackson, on June 21, 1876. It will be observed that at this time the State government had passed in to the hands of the Democratic party and the native white people.


Q. By Senator Bayard: Who composed the board in Madison County after the election of 1873?
A. Five negroes.

Q. Were any of them educated men?
A. No, sir.

Q. Do you know whether any of these five negroes were able to read and write?
A. My information is that one of them could sign his name, after a fashion.

Q. And it was to that board the control of education in that county was submitted?
A. Yes, sir; they levy the county taxes for education, and other purposes.

Q. Could any one of that board calculate the rate of assessment estimates upon sums of money?
A. I have no idea they could. I do not know from personal knowledge, but, from information, I do not think there was any one of them that could make any sort of computation. Not one of them was familiar with the simple rules of arithmetic.

It may be remarked that Madison County was the home of Judge Campbell, and the same state of the school system which he has described as existing in his county, was common in all the black counties of Mississippi, or counties in which the negro voters were in the majority, with the addition that the intermixture and participation of carpet baggers found in some of them, but added a still more dangerous and corrupt element than ignorance to the control of the moral and educational training of the people.

It had been the early aim of the radical party to force social equality upon the Southern people through the instrumentality of the public school system, and the first constitution prepared for the people of Mississippi, under the reconstruction acts of Congress, embodied a feature requiring the whites to mingle with the negroes in the public shools of the State, or submit to the unjust alternative of contributing from their scanty substance a heavy tax to maintain a costly system of public schools, in the advantages of which they did not participate.

Never was there a more arbitrary and humiliating condition imposed upon a people, than this of being compelled either to accept the terms of having their children trained and educated upon a social footing with the negro, or on the other hand to become vassals to the effort to make him their superior.

It was this provision that early and naturally excited the opposition of the white people to any contribution to the education of the negro, who paid no taxes himself comparatively worthy of consideration.

With the destruction of slavery, they had become woefully impoverished. Their lands were almost valueless. Their personal property, too, had been swept away by the tide of war, and they thought that these consequences were sufficiently onerous without being forced to contribute their slender means of support to educate their former slaves. But when the burden was rendered humiliating and insulting, it, indeed became insupportable.

It was this that provoked the strenuous efforts on the part of the white people of Mississippi, which resulted in the defeat of the constitution fashioned for them by Congress in 1848 (1868).

Nor did this feature of mixed schools enlist the sympathies of the negroes themselves. Their own sense of inferiority led many of them to oppose the scheme; consequently they voted largely with the whites against this constitution. This proscription policy of the radical party was prompted by a desire to perpetuate its power, even at the cost of producing a state of social anarchy and mongrelism, or a war of races, in the South.

But when these objectionable clauses had been severed, and the constitution was resubmitted to the people, it was adopted by a large majority, and the system providing for separate schools for the whites and blacks would no longer have met with any serious opposition, had it not been for its gross and outrageous mismanagement. It still proved under radical rule to be a prolific field for the growth of every species of corruption, which, if it did not in a measure revive the spirit of opposition to the entire institution, produced, at least, a general feelling of apathy and indifference in regard to it.

Four mills on the dollar were levied by the legislature of 1874, and two mills additional by the county boards of education, which, for the most part, were composed of illiterate negroes, as in Madison County, or by a mixture of these and the more vicious white radicals; while the county superintendents were mostly adventurers from the Northern States, who proved in almost every instance to be defaulters, who had no sympathy for the white people, and whose habits for the most part were so dissolute and degraded that they were not admitted into the society or even to the acquaintance of those, the education of whose children they were presumed by law to supervise.

In the County of Lowndes, there was a small school district containing but two schools, one for the use of each color. The negro school was taught in a house on the planation of Mr. James Sykes. This house he had caused to be built prior to the war for a negro church, and it had always been devoted to that purpose, and was being so used at the time of the following occurence. An arbitrary demand was made of him for this building by the superintendent of education or school board, to which he replied that the building was being used by the negroes as a church, and that if they, the negroes, desired to have a school there, he had no objection. Upon this the school was established.

Some time afterward, Mr. Sykes, on looking over the records of the county, was surprised to find that the county school authorities had made a charge of about one hundred and seventy dollars for the rent of this house. They had also assessed seventy-five dollars for a stove, fifty dollars for repairs, fifteen dollars or twenty dollars for benches, and about seventy-five dollars for fuel, and that for this small school district with only two schools, the aggregate amount of three thousand eight hundred dollars had been charged. In regard to this, Mr. Sykes, in his sworn statement before the ku-klux committee says:

"This was my own house. I made no charge for rent, nor did I receive any, and there was not fuel used but my own, for which I charged nothing. There was an appropriation made for the repairs of the house which was never received. They appointed me to do it; the work was never performed, and I never made application for, or received, any pay. They had, themselves, pocketed these pretended appropriations, and it was the same way with nearly the whole sum of three thousand eight hundred dollars charged upon the record."

This instance is mentioned as a specimen of innumerable transactions of a similar character attending the conduct and management of the public schools in various counties of the State.


Kemper County Vindicated and A Peep at Radical Rule in Mississippi by James D. Lynch
E. J. Hale & Son, New York, 1879, pages 132,135-138.