In post-Civil War Mississippi, no group had more reason to celebrate the 4th of July than the state’s African American population. The following article concerning the celebration of the 4th of July in Natchez was published by The Weekly Democrat (Natchez), July 8, 1867:
The 4th of July
At an early hour of the 4th, the streets of the city, the roads leading from the country, the ferry-boat, and all avenues of approach, were thronged with freedmen and freedwomen, coming to Natchez to participate in the celebration of the day and the picnic at the grounds of Mrs. Nutt, about two miles from the city. The Magenta, which arrived Wednesday, brought down some four hundred persons from the plantations above.
At about ten o’clock the procession was formed, consisting of the Union Leagues, and negroes from the surrounding country, nearly all decorated with ribbons, and many carrying flags, moved up Main street, from Broadway, in an orderly and quiet manner. There were in the line about twenty-five hundred males, a few of the marshals being white persons. The side-walks were thronged, and it would not be an exaggeration to state that there were at least 8000 persons on the streets, and in the procession. Two or three national flags, displayed on the streets, were saluted as the procession passed them.
Having marched up Main street to Pine, the crowd passed out on the Woodville road, to the picnic grounds. A thunder shower came up about this time, in considerable fury, and temporarily checked the proceedings. As soon, however, as the sky became clear, the festivities were resumed. It is estimated that there were not less than nine thousand people on the picnic grounds during the day. A stand had been erected for the speakers, and it was expected that Capt. L.W. Perce would deliver the oration of the day; but that gentleman was absent on important business.
The principal speech was made by ——- Langston, colored, from Ohio. We heard his speech highly commended for its good sense and moderation. Upon the subject of lands, now so interesting to negroes, the speaker’s remarks were particularly sensible and explicit. He told his hearers that they ought to have land; yes, God intended that all should have land who labored; but they were to get it by the proceeds of honest toil and economy, and by these alone; then God would prosper them and enable them to enjoy the land and its products. They should put away from them the delusive hope of obtaining land by any other means. They should work faithfully and steadily, and be frugal, and then would they be able to buy much land, and command the respect of the community in which they lived.
[Editor’s Note: The newspaper did not give the first name of the speaker, but with a
little research I was able to determine that it was John Mercer Langston, an African-American lawyer from Ohio. The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (Wheeling, West Virginia) noted in its June 4, 1867, edition: “J.W. Langston, an able colored lawyer of Ohio, has also left for an extended speaking tour at the South.“]
As far as we could learn, nothing occurred during the day to mar the good order and enjoyment of the occasion, except the adverse weather. About five o’clock the skies rapidly darkened, and the accumulation of black clouds in the west, indicated a rain at short notice. This put an end to the picnic, and the roads were soon alive with thousands of people scampering home, in a great hurry to avoid being drenched. Many of them, however, were caught in a most furious rain, and thoroughly soaked.
We are glad to be able to say that the entire proceedings were marked by good order, quiet and sobriety. We have never seen a celebration so numerously attended and more yet quiet and well-behaved than this was. We neither saw nor heard of the slightest disturbance of any kind throughout the day and night.