Should Lynch have his own street?

Published 12:01am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I would like to bring to the attention about an individual from Natchez who would go on to become elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi.

John Roy Lynch was born Sept. 10, 1847, on the Tacony Plantation in Concordia Parish.

Lynch’s mother was Catherine White, an enslaved woman, who had mixed European and African ancestry. Lynch’s father was Patrick Lynch, an immigrant from Dublin, who had become a planter and was their master.

After John was born, his father planned to move the family to New Orleans and free Catherine and their son. Patrick Lynch died of illness before carrying out his plan.

Promising to free the mother and child, a friend had taken title of Catherine and John from Patrick Lynch before he died. But the friend sold John and Catherine to a planter from the Dunleith Plantation in Natchez.

The two of them would be held in slavery until 1863. It was during the time of his enslavement at Dunleith that young John Lynch took every opportunity to “steal” an education.

So wherever there was any education being taught, John Lynch eavesdropped on class lessons in a white school. He also educated himself by reading books and newspapers. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, Lynch learned photography and managed a successful business in Natchez.

Lynch’s leadership abilities were recognized by the Governor of Mississippi in 1868. He would appoint Lynch Postmaster and Justice of the Peace.

Lynch would go on to represent the Natchez-Adams County area at the first integrated session of the Mississippi legislature where he would fight for civil rights and education for Negro people.

He was instrumental in the first public school for people of African origin in the city of Natchez — the Union Street School. In 1871, Lynch would be elected Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives (making him the only person of African origin to hold this esteemed office in the state’s history). In 1884, Theodore Roosevelt (who would later become 26th President of the United States) made a moving speech by which he nominated Lynch as Temporary Chairman of the 1884 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Lynch thus became the first African American to chair the convention.

From 1889 to 1893, Lynch was appointed as treasury auditor of the Navy.

In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Lynch was appointed as a major and paymaster in the Army by President William McKinley.

In 1901, Lynch entered the Army as a captain, gaining promotions to major and serving tours of duty in the United States, Cuba and the Philippines.

Lynch retired from the Army in 1911 and moved to Chicago in 1912, where he practiced law and became involved in real estate.

In 1939, Lynch died at the age of 92 in Chicago.

Lynch was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. He was entitled to this as a Congressman and veteran.

Lynch was the first person of African origin to hold any official office in the state of Mississippi.

In the City of Natchez, John Lynch has become a forgotten figure in history.

There is the John Lynch house on St. Catherine Street, but if there is a J.R. Lynch in Jackson, there should be one in Natchez, where he represented in Congress and was enslaved.

This is the least that could be done for a pioneer of civil rights and politics for African Americans for this area.


Jeremy Houston is a Natchez resident.