The untold story of African American history

By Bill Marcy

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

Traditionally, the month of February has been set aside to be what is commonly called Black History Month.  In actuality, this month has been selected to remind America of the achievements of the descendants of Africans who were brought to America, primarily as slaves, from the 1600s until the present.

Today, most of our attention regarding Black history is focused on the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.  Now it goes without saying this period was an exciting part of the battle to gain the rightful freedoms of the descendants of the enslaved Africans who were brought to this country to work the fields of the south and the factories of the north.  However, to limit our observations to this era, even though it was led by many great heroes, simply highlights the tip of the iceberg and leaves the majority of the history hidden.

I think an individual who could be easily considered one of the first of our heroes is Crispus Attucks.  On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks, a 47- year-old escaped slave,  was one of our nation’s first founders.  Crispus Attucks stood shoulder to shoulder with the first patriots who not only fought for freedom for the African slaves but more importantly, the freedom of all Americans from the colonial rule of the British Empire.

On March 5, 1770, Crispus, along with others, protested in the streets in opposition to the unfair taxes that the British were forcing the colonists to pay for imported items from England.  During the protest, a group approached armed British troops who fired on them, killing five civilians.  One of the first killed was Crispus Attucks, a black man.

Many today incorrectly say that blacks were not part of our Founding Fathers, but Crispus Attucks was the first to shed his precious blood for this country. “Remember Crispus Attucks Death” was the sounding cry for the abolitionists until the end of the Civil War.

Another black leader who has drifted into anonymity is John Roy Lynch of Mississippi. It is surprising John Roy Lynch has been forgotten.  The elimination of John Roy Lynch from our history would be like eliminating George Washington from the nation’s history.

John Roy Lynch, a former slave, was born in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, on September 10, 1847. Lynch’s mother was Catherine White, a slave, and his father Patrick Lynch, was a white man.  Patrick Lynch and Catherine White were undoubtedly in love but in those times it was impossible for a white man to marry a black woman.

Patrick Lynch was not a rich plantation owner and had to work to purchase his true love so she would not be subjected to the slave life.  After purchasing Catherine White and with the birth of John Roy Lynch and his brother, he left to make arrangements in New Orleans to take them off the plantation.  Patrick Lynch became deathly ill during his absence from his family and only returned in time to make arrangements for his family’s protection before his death. Patrick Lynch turned his family over to a friend who swore on Patrick’s death bed he would arrange for his family’s protection.  However, after Patrick’s death, the friend resold the family back into slavery.

The Lynch family was brought to Natchez, Mississippi, where John Roy Lynch, age 16,  and his family were enslaved until the Union forces arrived and President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed them.

After the Civil War ended with the victory of Union Forces, John Lynch worked as an apprentice to a photographer and soon began running the shop for the owner.  John Lynch became active in politics joining the Republican Party.

As a novice in politics, John Lynch was a quick learner.  He was self-taught, and with only four months of formal education, he became literate. John took every opportunity to read anything that was available to him.  John Lynch quickly became one of the most eloquent men in the state of Mississippi with only four months of formal education.

As the recognized leader of the Adams County Republican Party, John Lynch at age 22 was appointed by the Military Governor Adelbert Ames as Justice of the Peace in Natchez.  Later, Lynch was appointed to the first Constitutional Convention of 1868.  In 1871, John Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives.  In 1872, John Roy Lynch was elected to be Speaker of the House as a Republican with a vote of the majority of white and Negro members.  Later, Lynch went on to be elected to the United States House of Representatives and became a confidant to almost all the presidents of his time.

John Roy Lynch started out as a slave and later became not only a business man but by the age of 25, Lynch had also become a national leader in the Republican Party, the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives and a member of the United States Congress. This young man who started off with every obstacle that none of us could even imagine, succeeded. All the following African American leaders have stood on the shoulders of men like Speaker of the House / Congressman John Roy Lynch.

Despite the barriers, men like John Roy Lynch and Crispus Attucks proved to all Mississippians and the world that men of color were the equal to any other men in the world.  This lesson should be passed on to our youth that no matter the circumstances of one’s birth, there are no limits to what one can become.  If a man, born a slave and without formal education, can achieve so much with so little, what can our children become with so much more?  John Roy Lynch was a man to admire.

The following is an excerpt from one of his most famous speeches on Civil Rights when asked what the newly freed people wanted of their country:

“They were faithful and true to you then; they are no less so today. And yet they ask no special favors as a class; they ask no special protection as a race. They feel that they purchased their inheritance, when upon the battlefields of this country, they watered the tree of liberty with the precious blood that flowed from their loyal veins. They ask no favors, they desire; and must have; an equal chance in the race of life.”

Faithfulness and loyalty continues to be the payment of the freedom now and then.  John Roy Lynch said it clearly above and I say it clearly now. We must have an equal change in the race for life.