The Struggle for Liberation in Attala County, 1865–1915
A paradigm-shifting perspective that insists on the agency and power of Black people to shape their futures
From lesser-known state figures to the ancestors of Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, and James Meredith, Mississippi Zion: The Struggle for Liberation in Attala County, 1865–1915 brings the voices and experiences of everyday people to the forefront and reveals a history dictated by people rather than eras. Author Evan Howard Ashford, a native of the county, examines how African Americans in Attala County, after the Civil War, shaped economic, social, and political politics as a nonmajority racial group. At the same time, Ashford provides a broader view of Black life occurring throughout the state during the same period.
By examining southern African American life mainly through Reconstruction and the civil rights movement, historians have long mischaracterized African Americans in Mississippi by linking their empowerment and progression solely to periods of federal assistance. This book shatters that model and reframes the postslavery era as a Liberation Era to examine how African Americans pursued land, labor, education, politics, community building, and progressive race relations to position themselves as societal equals. Ashford salvages Attala County from this historical misconception to give Mississippi a new history. He examines African Americans as autonomous citizens whose liberation agenda paralleled and intersected the vicious redemption agenda, and he shows the struggle between Black and white citizens for societal control. Mississippi Zion provides a fresh examination into the impact of Black politics on creating the anti-Black apparatuses that grounded the state’s infamous Jim Crow society. The use of photographs provides an accurate aesthetic of rural African Americans and their connection to the historical moment. This in-depth perspective captures the spectrum of African American experiences that contradict and nuance how historians write, analyze, and interpret southern African American life in the postslavery era.