THE CLAY HILLS 373 If any group in the Clay Hills had cause for celebration in 1865, it was the region’s 100,000 newly freed African Americans. Freedom came with much uncertainty, however, and some former slaves initially believed things had been better for them during “slavery days” as they told interviewers in the 1930s. But they were the minority, and most African Americans welcomed the prospects of acquiring land, and founding their own churches, and obtaining an education. Also, African American men could now participate in the political process. These were “firsts” that merited celebration. New choices and opportunities beckoned, and local African Americans showed all indications of seizing them. Marriage and the pursuit of property ownership were certainly high on the list of priorities for many freed people. Rose Holman, who had been enslaved in Choctaw County, recalled being married shortly after the war. She thought that she was “steppin’ out” in the blue ribbon- trimmed wedding dress she wore that day. Though poor, she and her husband enjoyed a freedom of movement unknown in the past as they farmed lands near where she had grown up as a slave. Anna Baker of Aberdeen, whose mother had run away while she was still a child, returned after the war to claim her. They settled in Columbus, and Anna would later marry a Columbus man, Sam Baker, who “made good money” and was able to purchase a house. Although she was impoverished after his death, she was bold enough to write a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression to tell him “the plain facts” of her plight. President Roosevelt wrote back and sent a representative who assured her that she would never lose her house. Both her action in writing and the President’s response were sure signs of how times had changed for African Americans of the Clay Hills. Christianity had been a central feature of many slaves’ life experiences even before the war, and that practice generally intensified when freedom came. The postwar Protestant churches they joined were in considerable flux as the biracialism of the past ended abruptly during Reconstruction, and they found themselves able to form their own, truly independent churches. In some places in the state, the shift was a hostile one as whites forced African Americans out of their churches. In other places, African Americans acted with white cooperation. Starkville seems to have combined both. African Americans in Starkville had worshipped at the Some whites in the Clay Hills used the charged racial atmosphere of the time as an excuse to go further than Lee, taking patrolling to more dramatic and extra-legal lengths. town’s Baptist church since its inception in 1839 and formed a sizeable portion of the congregation. Beginning in 1855, whites had even allowed them to hold their own separate worship services once a month. Shortly after war’s end, a white member argued that the African American congregants should be dismissed to form their own church. A group of forty-five ex-slaves, under leadership of George Washington Chiles, did just that. They broke to form their own truly separate church, which they called Second Baptist Church Colored, and they constructed their first permanent church building in 1871. They were not alone. Starkville’s African American Methodists secured a site for their church near downtown in 1870. These two African American churches exemplified a postwar pattern often repeated across the Clay Hills. Education was a privilege denied to slaves, and it became a critically important goal for African Americans upon emancipation. With help from the Freedman’s Bureau and aid from various northern religious societies, sixty-one black schools were operating in Mississippi by 1867. Many narratives from former slaves testify to their impact. Wayne Holliday, for example, attended the local “colored school” near the railroad crossing in Aberdeen where he learned how to read and write. He then sent all of his children to school too, noting proudly in the 1930s that they were “doin’well.” Yet outsiders were not the only ones who led the drive to found schools in the Clay Hills. While African Americans took the central role in establishing schools, some southern whites helped also by serving as teachers, and in Columbus local whites donated nearly $1,000 to rebuild a burned black schoolhouse. In Noxubee County in 1898, S.J. Hunter founded the Noxubee Industrial Training school eight miles east of Macon with small donations from various individuals, churches, and youth organizations. By 1914, it was one of twenty-nine normal and industrial schools in the state, and one of six in the Clay Hills patterned on the industrial education model pioneered by Booker T. Washington. The schools included Mary Holmes in West Point, which opened in 1892, and others in Kosciusko, Okolona, and Winona. The non-sectarian Noxubee Industrial Training School aimed explicitly to serve the area’s large population of rural African Americans, “eighty-five percent of whom” lived “remote from those influences of culture and refinement.” Its program of study was a modest and practical one that included manual training for boys in agriculture and