THE CAPITAL AREA 221 Redemption and a New Century The decades following the end of Reconstruction in Mississippi saw the ascendance of white Democratic rule throughout the state. Known as the Redemption Period, those years reversed much of the political and economic changes made during Reconstruction. By 1890, when Mississippi inaugurated its new constitution, the appropriation of separate school systems and disfranchisement for African American voters signified a return to a political and social order similar to that of the antebellum era. In Hinds County, which had the second largest African American voting age population, the numbers were revealing. There were 5,566 African American in 1890, but only 101 in 1892. The impact was so dramatic that what little African American voter participation remained was deemed “harmless” by the Jackson Daily Clarion-Ledger newspaper. Mass African American disenfranchisement would persist until the 1960s and the advent of the Voting Rights Act. Education experienced similar transitions. The 1890 Constitution established: “It shall be the duty of the legislature to encourage by all suitable means, the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral and agricultural improvement, by establishing a uniform system of free public schools, by taxation, or otherwise, for all children between the ages of five and twenty-one years, and, as soon as practicable, to establish schools of higher grade.” It also required that “Separate schools shall be maintained for children of the white and colored races.” While segregation did not eliminate African American access to public education, it did severely underfund it. In 1894, Smith Robertson School opened and became the first public school for African Americans in Jackson. Named after a former slave and the first African American alderman in Jackson, Smith Robertson School educated many children in the area including the celebrated writer Richard Wright, who drew from his Mississippi childhood for his novels Black Boy and Native Son. Private efforts also continued to support African American education in the area. In 1909, Laurence Jones founded Piney Woods Country Life School for African American children in Rankin County. Opportunities in higher education also expanded. In 1883, Belhaven College was founded as a private institution in Jackson. Seven years later, in 1890, Reuben Webster Millsaps, a former Confederate officer, made a generous donation of $50,000, which was matched by Mississippi Methodists, to go towards the founding of a Methodist college in Jackson. In 1902, a young Tuskegee Institute graduate moved to Mississippi with a vision to offer young African American men and women agricultural and industrial training that would serve as a means of self-improvement and financial upward mobility. William Henry Holtzclaw built Utica Normal & Industrial Institute in rural Hinds County with funding from the John F. Slater Fund for the Education of Freedmen and northern donors. Holtzclaw, who grew to be close friends with Booker T. Washington, modeled Utica Institute after his alma mater. In 1903, the school opened. Although Utica Jr. College merged with the Hinds Community College District in 1982, it has maintained its status as a historicallyAfricanAmerican college. It is the oldest campus branch in the six-campus district. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions to America’s education system started in Hinds County. At the turn of the century, there were more than fifty agricultural high schools across the nation. One of those was located in Raymond and opened in September 1917. With budget MEDGAR EVERS, JR. Medgar Wiley Evers, Jr., was a World War II veteran, a graduate of Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University), and a husband and father. He was born in 1925 in Decatur and served in the European theater during World War II. Later, Evers became an insurance salesmen and a leader in the NAACP during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson. Evers worked to recruit members for the NAACP, organize voter registration drives, sit-ins, boycotts, and was instrumental in getting James Meredith admitted to the University of Mississippi. His activities threatened local segregationists, and after numerous threats and attempts, Evers was assassinated at his home in Jackson in 1963. Byron de la Beckwith was charged with Evers’ murder in 1964, but was not successfully convicted until 1994. Evers’ murder brought national attention to the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. He was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery for his fight for the freedom and equality of all people. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MEDGAR AND MYRLIE EVERS INSTITUTE