I’ve been collecting a history of Temporary Autonomous Zones. I’m grateful to Hakim Bey for the conceptual phrase, but his history was more romantic than tactically useful…and after all, he is something of a pedo. So in honor of the TAZ going down right now in PDX — YOU KNOW ABOUT ESOZONE, YES?? — I’ll be sharing some of the best stories this weekend.
One of my favorite corners of Southern History was an all-black community hidden in Northern Mississippi. The story of Mound Bayou stretches across centuries and winds through everything from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. Sadly, Mound Bayou exists almost nowhere online. The Wikipedia is shallow filler, and most of the online histories are short and sloppy.
Isaiah Montgomery and Ben Green founded Mound Bayou in 1887, but the story begins with Montgomery’s father, Ben, who was a slave on the David Bend plantation. For most folks alive today, our images of a plantation are based on Roots, but things were very different at Davis Bend. It was owned by Joeseph Davis (the brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis) and he was heavily inspired by the “socialist utopianism” of an obscure thinker named Robert Owen.
As a side note, Technoccult readers might be interested to know that “Owen insisted he could communicate with great minds of the past by means of electricity.” The precise details are lost to history, but it should be noted Owens was unusually blunt after death, telling Spritualist mediums who summoned him “Oh! How you have misunderstood the laws which connect spirit with spirit…you will never understand these things…”
David Bend was an experiment in education and empowerment, and yes, I do realize how absurd that sounds when I’m still talking about white people owning slaves. Rather than draconian dormitory conditions, though, Joeseph Davis encouraged his slaves to educate themselves and even own businesses. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Davis sold his land holdings to Ben Montgomery, who had run the plantation store. The price was $300,000 in gold, and with that David Bend became one of the first autonomous black communities in the South.
The Owen-inspired focus on learning and skills carried into Mound Bayou, especially when Booker T. Washington got involved later on. This isn’t just a look into the past, though: I think that Mound Bayou has a signifigant lesson to offer us here in 2008. During the many “exodus” movements which happened throughout the history of both Davis Bend and Mound Bayou, the Montgomery family was adamant about building a strong foundation instead of leaving for the mere promise of something better. Most importantly, the education they focused on was agricultural tech and self-sufficiency techniques:
Through outlets like the town’s newspaper, The Demonstrator (1900), Mound Bayou promoted education as an essential path to community survival, in particular vocational education in scientific agriculture through the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute.
Here in 2008, John Robb, one of my favorite Big Thinkers and the author of Brave New War, has been doing an amazing series of short, potent articles revolving around global systems collapse and the concept of the Resilient Community. Although fairy tales like Gabriele D’Annunzio taking over Fiume are beautiful, they’re not realistic or sustainable solutions. Mound Bayou is a model that lasted, and it was based on smart design and hard work, not poetry and wine.