VICKSBURG FACTS: Vicksburg’s first Black alderman

Published 9:00 am Friday, February 3, 2023

Do you know the story of Vicksburg’s first Black alderman, Wesley Crayton?

Wesley Crayton was Vicksburg’s first Black alderman and an affluent businessman. He was also a prominent leader of the Republican party for the African American community in Vicksburg.

During the 1870s, Crayton was the owner of Blue Light Saloon on Washington Street, according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia. He also served as the vice president of two banks that catered to the African American community and helped create and served as a chairman of the Vicksburg Chapter of the Negro Business League.

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By the 1880s, Crayton had a band known as the Wesley Crayton Silver Cornet Band that would play for both Black and white audiences. 

In his political career, Crayton served at the local, state and national levels for the Republican party for several decades. He was an officeholder, convention delegate and on occasion a power broker, according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia.

In the 1880s, Crayton represented Mississippi Republicans at the party’s national convention every four years and would often be in political competitions. Once in the 1890s, when there were competing factions of Mississippi Republicans led by James Hill and John Lynch, both groups agreed that Wesley Crayton should be their treasurer.

Crayton and his wife, Henrietta, were constantly fighting against various injustices in the South. In 1890, Crayton and his wife sued the Louisville, New Orleans and Tennessee Railroad for $10,000 due to its employees enforcing new segregation laws that would remove them from the train.

Crayton explained to the court that he and his wife were heading to the Black passenger cars while boarding the train, but had to walk through the whites-only cars to reach their seats. The conductor verbally and physically assaulted Crayton with racist insults and a few hits to the face, according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia.

Quickly after, the conductor had Crayton and his wife thrown off the train, where they were forced to wait seven hours for the next train to stop by. The courts ruled in favor of Crayton and he and his wife were granted $2,000. 

During the 20th century, Crayton struggled to maintain his saloon business. There were many people who believed it was immoral for Crayton to be a politician and run a saloon and would often try to highlight negativities to hurt his business.

Over time, Crayton had to change his business strategy due to several different laws that prohibited the success of his business, such as the Sunday alcohol sale, statewide prohibition and the beginnings of some Jim Crow laws.

However, he continued to serve in the Republican Party even with the many obstacles he had to overcome with his business. He served as a Republican at National Conventions until 1920, even though the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 disfranchised most Black voters and rendered Republicans insignificant in most Mississippi elections, according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia.

Wesley Crayton died in 1924. He is one of many Black leaders depicted on the “New Beginnings and Lasting Legacies,” at the Vicksburg waterfront.