Times-Democrat clipping

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Moore, James Aaron; Morgan, A. T. (Albert Talmon); Miscegenation; Meridian (Miss.); Mississippi. Constitutional Convention (1868)

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Negro Preacher-Politician Who Played a Conspicuous Part in the Affairs of Mississippi During Reconstruction Period - Once Escaped Death by Playing "Possum" and Then Making a Record Run for About Sixty Miles on Foot.

Special to The Times-Democrat.

Jackson, Miss., Jan. 30. A few days ago there died in this city an old negro who played quite a conspicuous part in affairs during the period of reconstruction in Mississippi. His name occurs several times in the text and notes of Prof. Garner's invaluable "History of Reconstruction in Mississippi." His claims to fame are many. He was the minister who performed the ceremony which united in marriage the notorious Col. A. T. Morgan, the carpetbagger, and a negro mulatto wench named Highgate, to the just scandal of all decent citizens. He was one of the naive, untutored negro members of the constitutional convention of 1868, the "Black and Tan" convention, who made themselves ludicrously immortal in their candid efforts to enrich themselves for all time with the spoils of office.

But all this might be blotted out and still J. Aaron Moore would have unimpregnable claims to historical and legendary fame. For he was the hero, not of a ride like Sheridan or Paul Revere, but of a run from Meridian to Jackson that is said to have been the fastest in all history. It was during the Meridian riot that he felt himself called imperatively away on other business. The legend is to the effect that he made it in four minutes; but when one considers the sixty miles intervening between the two cities, this appears improbable. At any rate, he passed along the route like an apparition, leaving the natives who caught a sight of the dusky streak that flashed across their vision to speak of the prodigy in awed whispers for years to come. There is only one foot-run in history to be compared with it, that of Pheidippides, the Greek, who brought the news from Marathon that the Persians were overthrown.

Aaron Moore was a familiar figure around the streets of Jackson for many years; of medium height, heavy, herculean frame and a fate, goodnatured face. He remembered the "manners" learned during slavery and was uniformly respectful. No thought of his vanished greatness disturbed him; his elevation had come without merit and was lost without regret. He was a surviving type of many negro politicians of that time, who sank to their natural level when the chaos and welter of abnormal conditions were once more resolved into social order. By profession he was a minister and a blacksmith. During the week, in a little smithy on the outskirts of the town, he hammered and forged, and on Sundays, fitly attired in a long coat of rusty black, relic of his former high estate, he searched the consciences of the members of his flock who congregated in a negro Methodist church several miles from town. On the streets on week days he always wore his leather apron, seemingly regarding it with the affection that the ancient Persians regarded the leather blacksmith's apron that was once their royal standard.

It was from Lauderdale county, in the troublous days of reconstruction, that J. Aaron Moore came up to the constitutional convention of 1868. He found himself one of eight negro preachers who were about the only negro members who had the slightest claim to literacy. In spite of this advantage, which was more inferential than real, we are assured by those who knew that Aaron was in entire sympathy with the great mass of the negroes, who openly declared that they had at last entered into the "promised land" and expected to be given full rein in their patriotic endeavors to exploit the public treasury. The curiously unmoral character of the race manifested itself ludicrously during the convention. The question of the right or wrong of their actions never troubled their woolly pates in the least. With pain they saw the committee's report in favor of a salary of $20 per day cut down to $10 a day and forty cents a mile in going to and from the capital, by the investigation of some of the intelligent white members. Appropriations were made with a lavish hand, however. The sum of $28,518 was given to four recently established newspapers to print the proceedings, and their other disbursements of public money were of a piece with that. The exaggerated sense of their recent importance caused the negro delegates to insist on the exclusion of the reporters who declined to prefix "Mr." to the names of the negro members in their reports. In some of their wild and ignorant schemes they were checked by the attitude of the commander of the military district.

Some of Aaron Moore's negro co-laborers in that convention did not, like him, reach a comfortable death. Their taking-off was more summary. At least five of them subsequently met violent deaths. A negro named Caldwell, afterwards a Senator from Hinds county, was, in 1875, killed by whites on the streets of Clinton; Combast, another, was hung by the Ku-Klux in Sunflower county; Orr was shot at Pass Christian, Fawn was shot in the courthouse at Yazoo City, Fred Parsons, defender of Gov. Ames in his impeachment trial, was found dead in a water hole, having been killed by unknown parties. Thus writes Prof. Garner in his book already referred to.

That J. Aaron Moore did not join this martyr band was due solely to his quickness of perception and his unusual agility. For, through no design of his own, he got mixed up in a riot that resulted in the death of many of his Lauderdale county political associates.

It appears that in 1871, the officers of Meridian, who were all carpetbaggers or freedmen, and all appointees of Gov. Ames, sent a delegation to him at Jackson to lay before him the true condition of affairs in their city. A Northern school teacher and several negroes had assaulted a white deputy sheriff who had come over from Alabama to make some arrests. The school teacher had been compelled to leave town by the native whites. The committee had its conference and returned to Meridian to make its report. A mass meeting of the Republicans was called for March 4 at the courthouse to hear the result. The meeting was largely attended. Addresses were made by three negroes. One of the speakers was J. Aaron Moore, who had been a member of the committee. The whites charged that the speeches were inflammatory. The town caught fire soon after the adjournment of the meeting and the negroes declined to help extinguish the flames. The town grew excited. A mass meeting was held at which the speeches of the three orators were roundly condemned.

Affidavits had been made against the three - Warren Tyler, a school teacher; William Dennis, a negro politician of disreputable character, and J. Aaron Moore. They were charged with "creating disorder." Soon after the adjournment of the mass meeting just mentioned the trial of the negroes began before a Republican magistrate. No one could doubt what he would do; the prisoners would be triumphantly acquitted.

In the middle of the trial there came a terrific interruption - a perfect volley into the courtroom from the shotguns, rifles and revolvers of a crowd of whites who had resolved to kill the agitators. The magistrate, at the first shot, fell over, dead. Dennis was badly wounded. Tyler managed to get away and concealed himself in a barbershop. When the smoke cleared away several dead bodies were found - among them that of J. Aaron Moore, the member of the Legislature from that county and one of the three especially marked for death. Dennis was taken to the sheriff's office. That night he was killed. Tyler was discovered in his retreat and also dispatched. Three other negroes that were arrested after the riot were put in charge of a deputy sheriff and sent to jail. During the night they, too, suffered the same fate. J. Aaron Moore's house in Meridian was burned. The mayor was made to leave town. The work of the crowd had been thorough except in one particular.

J. Aaron Moore had frequently considered the "possum," his habits, etc. None of them impressed him more than the way that remarkable animal simulated death. When the volley poured into the courtroom it occurred to him that now or never was the time to avail himself of his studies in natural history. He slid to the floor with a groan, rolled over on his face and remained. Near him were some honestly dead bodies, but they looked like counterfeits compared with Aaron. The wounded were removed, the dead left - among them Aaron, "playing possum." As soon as he thought it advisable, he raised his head and looked around. The coast was clear - that is, comparatively clear. He made his way cautiously out and darted for Jackson. The rumor that he had not been killed somehow spread and a body of armed citizens started after him. But if that statesman had previously imitated the possum successfully, he now made the hare look like a cousin-german to the tortoise. He had stored up an immense fund of nervous energy during the events he had just passed through. He made the distance from Meridian to Jackson, on foot, in an incredibly short time.

Not long ago a citizen of Jackson, meeting him on the street, inquired:

"Is it true, Aaron, that you ran from Meridian to Jackson in four minutes?"

"I didn't make it in no four minutes," he replied, "but I sho' made it faster than I could ever make it again."

The distinguished sprinter never returned to Meridian. When his term as a legislator expired he got the job of night watchman at the Capitol. When that position failed and the hope of another grew dim, after the "revolution of 1875," he went back to the smithy. His ecclesiastical pretentions he maintained through it all.

It was after the Meridian affair that he was called upon to marry Col. A. T. Morgan and "Miss" Highgate. The ceremony is said to have taken place in Jackson. Morgan had been a Colonel of the Second Wisconsin Volunteers. After the war he remained in Mississippi and speedily became eminent in "carpetbag" circles. He was a member of the reconstruction convention. In 1873 he was elected sheriff of Yazoo county, and in January, 1874, he was brought before the chancellor of the district on an application for bail, having killed his predecessor in office shortly before. The chancellor refused bail. Morgan was a close friend of Ames and the chancellor's action greatly displeased the latter. It seems that the chancellor's appointment had not been confirmed by the Senate. The Governor availed himself of this circumstance to revoke the appointment and send in the name of another man to be chancellor. The obsequious Legislature passed a special act permitting another writ, and the new chancellor promptly released him. The appointment of this judge, in consideration of an alleged promise to release Morgan on bail, was one of the grounds of the impeachment charges against Gov. Ames.




Times-Democrat, “Times-Democrat clipping,” Mississippi State University Libraries, accessed September 25, 2023, http://msstate-exhibits.libraryhost.com/items/show/831.

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