Birmingham News clipping

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Fine Tribute Paid At Funeral of Former Slave

Special to The Birmingham News.

MERIDIAN, Miss., Feb. 23. Standing in the center of the little Ebenezer church in which the negro population were wont to worship, Representative Sample, one of the best known and most prominent members of the Mississippi state legislature, pronounced a glowing eulogy over the remains of Perry W. Howard, a negro born a slave in the Carolinas, who had made his influence for good felt in the community of his adopted home.

Gathered within the little church on this occasion, but a few days ago, were many whites of the vicinity, all there to pay their tribute of respect to the worth of the deceased who had reared a large family and, although, himself, unable to read or write, had given each and all of his children the highest possible education. This fact is established when it is known that three of his sons are physicians, one a druggist and one a merchant, while both of his daughters are teachers in the schools of the state.

The date of the birth of Perry W. Howard is lost in the days before the war, no record having been made, as far as his family knows, of that event. His owner, even, at that time, is unknown to them. In the slave marts of the period, Howard was sold and resold, finally drifting to Mississippi, where he became the property of one of the wealthiest planters of Holmes county, Thomas Howard, from whom he took the family name.

Howard Plantation.

Thomas Howard was one of those liberal, broad minded and courteous Southern gentlemen who made the old South world famous, and he treated his slaves as if they were human beings without regard to their being so much goods and chattel. He was good to them, and in the after years, when the horrors of the reconstruction period laid waste the fortunes of so many of the great families of the Southland, at least one of these slaves was true to the trust reposed in him, and watched with jealous eye the welfare, comfort and care of the family ruthlessly thrown into a position almost bordering poverty.

On the great plantation of Thomas Howard, Perry W. Howard, the negro slave, was famed for his ability as a horse-shoer. When the call to arms was sounded throughout the South, Thomas Howard promptly responded, and his faithful slave went with him. Joining the cavalry division, the fame of the slave soon spread throughout the entire army as a horse-shoer, and for four years he faced the hardship of war in that position. Neither he nor his master was injured during the battles in which they both took part, and both returned to their wasted home in Mississippi after the coming of peace, a peace that brought hardships even worse than those of the war they had just encountered.

Reconstruction.

All during the days of reconstruction the former slave stuck to his former master and shared the hardships of the period with him. He became postmaster of Ebenezer but did not retain it very long. That was in the reconstruction period. Perry Howard then began to accumulate the property that he has left to his family, valued, conservatively, at about $15,000. His former master died. The ex-slave watched with the care of a relative the loved ones his master left behind, and this jealous guardianship won for him more than the mere esteem of the white people of the vicinity.

He turned, as many of the freed negroes did at that period, toward politics, and entered the state legislature. He served there several terms, the last one, it is stated, being about 1888, he retiring as one of the last negro republicans to occupy a seat in the law making body of the state of Mississippi.

Sincere Tributes.

The love and reverence he bore toward the memory of his former master, and which he unstintedly bestowed upon the widow, daughters and loved ones he left behind him, were all recounted by the leading white men of the county when all that was mortal of the ex-slave, who had, in his generation, gone from the thraldom of slavery to the dignity of landed proprietor. He remained true to his old trade of horse-shoeing and conducted his business up to a few years ago when he retired.

The tributes of the white people to his memory were remarkable for the sincerity and depth of feeling displayed, and tears of real sorrow were freely shed by men and women of the Caucasian race as mother earth took unto her embrace the form of a man whose skin was colored, but whose heart was as white as the driven snow.

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Citation

Birmingham News, “Birmingham News clipping,” Mississippi State University Libraries, accessed September 24, 2021, https://msstate-exhibits.libraryhost.com/items/show/1287.