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
MISSISSIPPI HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2023 BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD RECIPIENT
2023 ASALH BOOK PRIZE FINALIST
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 and social 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 refine how historians write, analyze, and interpret southern African American life in the post-slavery era.
"This book reveals that African Americans in Mississippi were extremely active in politics, academics, and social progressivism, working to transform Mississippi into a modern progressive state. The damage done to African American political rights during the 1890 constitutional convention proved catastrophic. The book provides another picture of Black life in Mississippi and looks at interracial cooperative activities in the state. Readers will understand the wasted potential of Mississippi as Blacks and whites separated and disintegrated into the racial abyss that the state eventually became. Ashford highlights the missed opportunity."- Abel A. Bartley, professor in the Department of History and Geography at Clemson University
"The audience for this book is primarily academic, but many non-academic readers will find Mississippi Zion to be a good read, too. Certainly, the conclusions and the abundant examples of African American liberation efforts give the reader much to ponder."- Tim Dodge, Auburn University, The Southeastern Librarian