Beacons of Reconciliation in a Historic Black Community

By Stan Friedman

MOUND BAYOU, MISSISSIPPI (August 1, 2013) – The ancestors of Darryl Johnson, pastor of Walk of Faith Covenant Church, were among the freed slaves who founded this town, the oldest municipality in the country to be started by African Americans, so his inauguration as its mayor last month was an especially meaningful moment for him, he says.

The presence of an all-white Covenant youth group from the small town of Lindsborg, Kansas, once referred to as “Little Sweden” — made it all the more significant for him.

Former slaves founded Mound Bayou in 1887 as a refuge for blacks on land no one else wanted. This undeveloped turf offered entrepreneurial settlers opportunities to start new businesses, which in turn provided employment for others. The town thrived.

Booker T. Washington visited Mound Bayou often and wrote, “Outside of Tuskegee, I think I can safely say there is no community in the world that I am so deeply interested in as I am in Mound Bayou.” President Theodore Roosevelt called Mound Bayou “the Jewel of the Delta.”

“There are a lot of African Americans around the country that look up to Mound Bayou,” Johnson says. He notes it played an important role in the civil rights movement. It is where an insurance salesman named Medgar Evers first became active in pursuing equal rights.

Tens of thousands of people protested in the community in the mid-1950s when local service stations then owned by whites in the area refused to provide bathrooms for blacks. Johnson’s father met secretly with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Mound Bayou.

So when the seventeen students and four adults from Lindsborg Covenant Church cheered at his inauguration, Johnson viewed it as symbolically significant as a sign for the country but also for the Covenant, which has intentionally become multi-cultural and been intent on pursuing issues of reconciliation.

“It has become even more special to me as I continue to think about it,” says Johnson, whose church joined the denomination in 1998. “To have the people from that historically Swedish community be here with us in this historic community was amazing.”

The team, which had been in Mound Bayou for a week-long mission trip gathered at Johnson’s home prior to the inauguration and then formed their own small motorcade to the swearing in. After the ceremony, they lined each side of the sidewalk and cheered as he was escorted into City Hall.

Lindsborg is a town of roughly 3,500 residents and was founded in 1869. Its biennial festival, called Svensk Hyllningsfest, draws attendees from across the country. The town is 95 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. By contrast, Mound Bayou is 98 percent black.

The trip to Mound Bayou organized through Covenant Merge Ministries became an education for the group from Lindsborg. “When you’re there in Mississippi and hear their stories, you realize that slavery really was not that long ago in their history, in their family,” says Jeremy Elseth, youth pastor at Lindsborg Covenant Church in Lindsborg, Kansas. “And to be there and walk alongside them for a few days and listen was an eye-opening experience.

“Their actions showed that they had forgiven what had taken place in the past. But the reconciliation process is still under construction as a nation.”

Elseth added, “We see this as a clear issue that we need to serve and be served by people of Mound Bayou. But it also makes me think what else will I see more clearly thirty years from now.”

Johnson hopes that part of what they will see is a rejuvenated Mound Bayou, which he has pursued as a minister and business owner. He founded the Mound Bayou Movement, “because I wanted to promote the original vision of the founders so that we would be strong economically and we would be a place where God and Freedom dwell.”

Johnson adds, “Because of the unique history of Mound Bayou I want to aggressively pursue the development of African American businesses,” Johnson says, adding he wants to make the town attractive commercially to everyone.

Johnson served two terms as aldermen before deciding to run for mayor. “It was a calling,” he says of his decision.

For more on the history of Mound Bayou, click here.

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1 Comment

  1. Just checking to see whats the latest on my home town. I’m proud to say that I feel that positive changes are taking place..I haven’t been home in quite a while,however, I look forward to returning soon. Congradulations Mayor Johnson. Will see you soon.

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