‘Rituals of Remembrance’ program coming to Catfish Row Museum

Published 6:34 pm Saturday, March 23, 2024

On March 28, Vicksburg National Military Park and Catfish Row Museum will co-host a special program “Rituals of Remembrance: African American Organizations in Post-Civil War Mississippi” at the Cat- fish Row Museum in downtown Vicksburg.

The program will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Catfish Row Museum located at 913 Washington Street.

The program will offer two compelling talks in one evening exploring the African American experience concerning rituals of

  • “In peace, we will ever stay’: The National Significance of Deathways in Mississippi’s African-American Fraternal Orders,1870-1930 presented byJennifer Ford, Ph.D., Senior Curator of Manuscripts & Professor, University of Mississippi.”

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Scholar John M. Giggie noted that African American fraternal orders after Reconstruction “promised a ritual life that celebrated African American achievement, health and burial insurance offering a new level of control over their lives and a choice at economic advancement.”

In Mississippi, historically one of the most racially contested regions in the United States, public manifestations of mourning and burial support for African Americans increasingly appeared by the late 1880s. These responses included, but were not
limited to, cemetery spaces and funerary rites, as well as fraternal rituals and burial insurance.

Although a subject of debate for some, these fraternal programs and mourning rituals appealed to many from different socio-economic communities, also offering African American funeral directors thriving business opportunities that were rare in Southern society at that time.

This presentation builds upon earlier scholarship, as well as adds a case-study investigation to such group responses to death, loss, agency and hope within Mississippi’s African-American communities during Reconstruction and the onset of the Jim Crow

  • “Retaining Memories of Battles Fought: African Americans and Memorial Day Commemorations at Vicksburg and Natchez presented by Leigh McWhite, Ph.D., Political Papers Archivist and Associate Professor, University of Mississippi.”

By the 1880s, white Southerners had crafted a powerful mythology of a lost golden era of “happy slaves and benevolent masters.” Confederate military prowess in a war fought over states’ rights, and a Reconstruction rife with oppression and mismanagement.

However, African Americans in Mississippi managed to preserve within their community a dramatically different story that conveyed the brutalities of enslavement, the heroic service of Black Union soldiers and the participation of African American officials in rebuilding Southern society during Reconstruction.

Across the decades, Union veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the African American communities of Vicksburg and Natchez participated in Memorial Day rituals at the two national cemeteries that contributed to an historical narrative of Black soldiers fighting against slavery.

With physical representations of United States Colored Troops in the form of headstones, these burial sites acted as federally protected asylums for commemorations that contradicted a Confederate interpretation of the past.

For more information: Under-Told Stories Speaker Series – Vicksburg National Military Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov).

Co-Sponsored by the Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park & Campaign.


Jennifer Ford, Ph.D., Senior Curator of Manuscripts and Professor, has worked at the University of Mississippi since 1998.

She received her MA in History and MLS from the University of Southern Mississippi and her Ph.D. in History from the University of Mississippi.

She is the author of the 2007 edited work The Hour of Our Nation’s Agony and has also published in journals such as The Journal of Mississippi History and the Southern Quarterly, among other publications. She is currently working on a monograph focusing on the history of death and ritual in Mississippi.

Leigh McWhite, Ph.D., is Political Papers Archivist and Associate Professor at the University of Mississippi.

The Political Papers Archivist is responsible for man- aging the political and legal collections in the Modern Political Archives, a unit in the Department of Archives and Special Collections.

These duties include organizing and describing the collections, determining preservation needs, assisting in the acquisition of new materials, working with researchers and conducting outreach via presentations, exhibits, and a web presence.