Notes from Black History
Mississippi’s Most Glorious Thanksgiving
By Earnest McBride
©2003. Earnest McBride. Posted by permission.
Only ten years out of slavery in 1873, Black Mississippians celebrated their
most glorious Thanksgiving. Early in November, they had asserted their
newly-entitled rights of equal protection under the law and the right to
vote (for black men) and achieved a milestone 130 years ago that is unlikely
ever to be duplicated. Thanks to the astute political leadership of Thomas
W. Cardozo, the “father “of Mississippi’s public school system, and his
cohort of determined political hardball players, half the top state elective
offices were won by black men.
Already elected to office the first Tuesday of November of 1873, Lt.
Governor-elect Alexander K. Davis, Secretary of State James “Jim” Hill,
State Auditor W. H. Gibbs and Cardozo, the incoming State Superintendent of
Education, shared the joyous spirit of the 1873 holiday season with their
fellow citizens across the state, with the great expectation of assuming
office in January 1874.
As a part of the sweeping changes in political affairs, at least 12 sheriffs
were elected in as many counties in 1873 and subsequent years. Warren
County, for example, elected all black officials except for the tax assessor
there. Most of these men, constantly under threat by white vigilantes, held
on to their offices for the full term.
This turn of events, known as the “Black and Tan Revolution” in many history
textbooks, came about because men like Cardozo, a light-skinned black man
who refused to pass for white as suggested by some of the Republican leaders
of his time, were fed up with the corrupt white Republicans who used
Mississippi’s black majority for their own benefit while the black people
took all the blame for the raid on the state and county treasuries.
Black Mississippians were first brought into the political fold during the
Black and Tan Convention of 1867-68. The convention held its first session
in Jackson on Tuesday, January 9, 1868, after some preliminary organizing
and delegate selections in the counties. In 1935, W. E. B. DuBois claimed
this to have been “the first political organization in Mississippi with
Colored representatives.” Of the 100 delegates, 17 were black, 29 were white
Republicans from Mississippi and 20 were Republicans from the North. This
being a “constitutional” convention for the entire state, the other 33
delegates were white Democrats.
“During the organization of the convention,” DuBois reported, “It was moved
that the word ‘colored’ be added to the name of each Negro delegate.
Thereupon, the Reverend James Lynch, a colored man, afterward Secretary of
State, moved to amend it so that the color of each delegate’s hair should be
The real workhorse of the Black and Tan Revolution, however, was not at the
1868 convention. Cardozo, a freeborn son of a Jewish father and a black
mother, was learning the tricks of real political power in Elizabeth County,
North Carolina, at the time. When he ran for sheriff there and lost, his
white Republican associates blamed him for the party losses---because he ran
as a black man, they said, when he should have passed for white. Stung by
this insult to his mother’s proud heritage, Cardozo moved with his wife to
Vicksburg in 1871 and soon began organizing the large black majority of
Thomas W. Stringer of Vicksburg was the first black man elected to the
Mississippi State Legislature in 1870. Stringer, the founder of the T. W.
Stringer Masonic Lodge, was a political moderate and readily accepted a
secondary role in the politics of his county under the pro-Union whites. He
was one of the 17 blacks statewide who served as delegates to the Convention
Despite the corrupt influence of political “boss” Charles Furlong, black men
assumed some of the key offices of Warren County. Peter Crosby, a black
veteran of the Civil War, was deputy sheriff under Furlong. Cardozo was
appointed Warren County Circuit Clerk and immediately formed an alliance
with Crosby and a tight-knit group of other black malcontents who wanted
black men to control their own destinies and not to serve in office at the
whim of whites.
Crosby and Cardozo seized control of their party by encouraging black voters
to elect themselves to the local offices. By the time of the Republican
convention of 1873, they had gained widespread black support for their
demand that black men be placed on the ballot for half of the top offices in
the state, including that of Lieutenant Governor.
One of the major issues that needed settling was whether Cardozo should be
nominated as Secretary of State in preference over Jim Hill and another
competitor for the office. Former Secretary of State James Lynch had died in
office and thus former U. S. Senator Hiram Revels had been asked to fill the
vacancy in the Secretary of State’s office for nearly a year until the
convention should decide the candidate.
Cardozo opted to place his name in nomination for State Superintendent of
Education instead and Hill was nominated for the secretary of state’s
position. I. D. Shadd of Vicksburg was elected Speaker of the House of
Representatives in January 1874.
Black elected officials and voters in 12 counties took on the responsibility
of determining their own political future. Only South Carolina displayed a
higher racial political consciousness than black Mississippians. Even though
Mississippi had a decisive black majority of voting age population in 1873,
the voters did not follow South Carolina’s example and take over a majority
of the state legislature. Mississippi only had about 50 or 60 black members
elected to both houses during any of the sessions of the Reconstruction era.
Natchez was the only city of the 1873-1885 political revolution to elect a
black mayor, Robert Wood, who also later served as sheriff of Adams County.
Mississippi’s 12 sheriffs of the Reconstruction era were as follows: (1)
Blanche K. Bruce of Bolivar County; (2) J. J. Evans of DeSoto; (3) John
Brown of Coahoma; (4) (First name unknown) Winslow of Washington County
;(5), (First name unknown) Sumner of Holmes; (6) Merrimon Howard of
Jefferson; (7) William McCary of Adams; (8) Robert H. Wood of Adams; (9)
Peter Crosby of Warren; (10) W. H. Harney of Hinds; (11) (First name
unknown) Scott of Issaquena; and (12) Joe Spencer Watkins of Monroe.
Black candidates for county offices in most of the “black” counties along
the Mississippi were also big winners in 1871-1873. Through their effective
use of the ballot, Black people elevated themselves from their status as
second-class citizens to become the rulers of their own and others’ destiny
It is hard to imagine today the glorious feeling in the hearts of all
progressive Mississippians, of whatever creed or color, in November 1873. No
matter what happened in later years to shatter that golden era, it was a
time of great joy and wonder worthy of holding a special place in the memory
of all Mississippians.
Thanks mainly to the efforts of Cardozo, one of the most reviled figures in
“official” Mississippi history (mainly because of his integrity in upholding
the trust black people put in his political decision-making ability), the
Thanksgiving of 1873 was Mississippi’s most glorious. Like his brother
Francis Cardozo, the Reconstruction era treasurer and Secretary of State of
South Carolina, Thomas W. Cardozo, was hounded from office by resentful and
corrupt white Democrats in 1876 under the threat of impeachment and possibly
prison. Francis did spend more than a year in a South Carolina prison on
false charges related to his term as state treasurer. The fighting spirit
and integrity of the two brothers never really died, however. Their
granddaughter and niece, Eslanda Cardozo Goode, married another champion of
the black cause in America---Paul Robeson. And she was the real “race”
advocate guiding the great singer, actor and statesman.