Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Secrecy and Segregation: Murphysboro's Black Social Organizations, 1865-1925

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Secrecy and Segregation: Murphysboro's Black Social Organizations, 1865-1925

Article excerpt

The first African Americans in Jackson County traveled from the South as the property of their masters. By 1818 the number of these black slaves in Jackson County totaled fifty-three and made up 3.8 percent of the county's population.1 Because they typically lived with owners that only owned one slave, African Americans in early Illinois experienced few opportunities for socialization and interaction with one another.2 And, even if they were able to obtain their freedom, they continued to be limited in the amount of socialization they experienced because of the strict black laws that governed the lives of free Blacks in Illinois from 1720 (when the Black Code was enforced by France)3 to 1865, when the state's Black Laws of 1853 were repealed.4 It was not until 1865, therefore, that African Americans were able to freely migrate into Illinois and begin to socialize in Illinois communities such as Murphysboro. Even after the Civil War, however, the endurance of segregation forced African Americans to form their own vehicles for organization and uplift. Many did so through community social organizations, such as the Grand Army of the Republic, and more secret societies such as the Knights of Pythias, the Knights Templar, and the Royal Templars of Temperance. The following investigation into the black community of Murphysboro from 1865 to 1925 attempts to answer questions concerning the members of the city's black community by examining the social organizations that existed, the functions of these organizations, and the benefits of the organizations.5

At the close of the Civil War 175 black people lived in Jackson County but none resided in Murphysboro Township.6 Seventy percent of the county's African Americans that migrated to Jackson County following the Civil War lived in the four easternmost townships, Elk, DeSoto, Carbondale, and Makanda.7 The Illinois Central Railroad served these townships, making them easily accessible destinations for Blacks who often entered the state at Cairo, the southern terminus of the Illinois railroad.8 In just five years the black population of Jackson County more than quintupled, from 175 in 1865 to 995 in 1870." Also, by 1870, the first Blacks had moved into Murphysboro Township. The census for that year reported 125 in the township, all but five living south of the city limits.10

With the great increase in population during the half-decade of 1865-70 came the establishment of Murphysboro's first and most prominent black community, the Bostick Settlement." Most, if not all, of the one hundred twenty African Americans living south of Murphysboro in 1870 were undoubtedly part of the Bostick Settlement. Dudley Bostick, the first of the family to live in Murphysboro, arrived in December 1865, after serving two years in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. General Bragg.12 Dudley mustered out of the navy at Mound City, Illinois, and likely traveled the Illinois Central from Cairo to Carbondale before settling south of Murphysboro. Hardin Bostick, believed to be Dudley's brother, and Isaac Morgan, both fellow veterans from the General Bragg arrived with Dudley.13 Early in 1866, Stephen Bostick, believed to be the third Bostick brother, arrived at the Bostick Settlement.14 Also a veteran from the General Bragg, Stephen moved to Jackson County from Cincinnati, Ohio.15 The three Bosticks and Isaac Morgan established their farming community five-and-a-half miles south of the city of Murphysboro, where Murphysboro and Pomona Townships meet.

The Bostick Settlement quickly became a successful farming community of freed slaves and other black people, most of whom were from Williamson County, Tennessee, the birthplace of the Bosticks.16 In 1870, thirteen members of the Bostick Settlement owned personal property ranging in value from fifty dollars to three hundred dollars, and only one owned any real estate.17 The real estate holdings within the Bostick Settlement increased in 1872 with the purchase of two forty-acre plots by two different members of the Bostick family, one for $825 and the other for $1,125. …

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