Milburn Crowe was born March 15, 1933, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. His father, Henry Harrison Crow (the "e" was added later) was a child of original settlers and grew up to be a timberman and farmer. Henry Crow married Altie Thompson in 1929, and they had seven children, including Milburn.
Milburn Crowe served in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1957 and studied electronic maintenance at Cheyenne, Wyoming. This led to a ten-year career with the Chicago Park District Engineering Department. In 1967 he returned to Mound Bayou and managed the family restaurant. Crowe also helped organize and edited the Mound Bayou Voice newsletter.
Throughout his adult life, Milburn Crowe was active in politics. In 1968 he met Martin Luther King Jr. in Edwards, Mississippi, as part of a delegation planning the "Poor People's Campaign." He was elected town alderman in 1969. He was a state board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was also a member of the Bolivar County Recreation-Conservation (Rec-Con) League and the board of directors of the Mound Bayou Precinct Club.
Milburn Crowe was known as the unofficial historian of Mound Bayou. He gave frequent tours of the town to classes and visiting groups. He preserved stories and memorabilia from the early days of Mound Bayou and was a driving force in the Mound Bayou Historical Foundation. He was a member of the Bolivar County Historical Society, the Mississippi Historical Society Board of Directors, the State Historical Records Advisory Board, and the Old Capitol Museum's Community Advisory Committee. His death on September 10, 2005, was a great loss to historians and Mound Bayou.
In July 2005, Milburn Crowe donated to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History an album of ninety photographs. Images of town fathers (and cousins) Isaiah Thornton Montgomery and Benjamin Titus Green, their family, and friends are identified in a partial index at the front of the album. Other photographs include two images of Frederick Douglass, a correspondent of Isaiah's brother, William Thornton Montgomery. The photographs were produced by studios throughout the United States, but most were attributed to H. J. Herrick (Vicksburg, Mississippi), A. L. Blanks (Vicksburg, Mississippi), M. T. Frederichs (Vicksburg, Mississippi), T. James Jr. (St. Louis, Missouri), I. R. Martin (Paris, Illinois), Parkhill's Gallery (Evansville, Indiana), and Pullman (Washington, D.C.) The photographs are not dated, but the embossed and embellished leather-bound album was patented in 1865.
Isaiah's father, Benjamin Thornton Montgomery, was a former slave of Joseph Emory Davis (brother of Jefferson Davis) with a genius for business and engineering. Janet Sharp Hermann asserts "It was clear that Davis considered Montgomery his most reliable assistant on the Bend." With assistance from U.S. Admiral David Dixon Porter, Benjamin moved his wife, Mary Lewis Montgomery, and daughters, Mary Virginia and Rebecca, to Cincinnati, Ohio, after the local economy was disrupted by the war in 1863. Isaiah and older brother William Thornton served with Union forces and were eventually reunited with their family. They returned to the Davis Bend plantations around 1866, and Benjamin Montgomery signed a ten-year mortgage with Joseph Davis in 1867 for Hurricane and Brierfield to host a colony of tenant farmers. Cousin Benjamin Green came to live with the Montgomerys after his father died the same year. The colony expanded to the neighboring Ursino plantation, acquired from Robert Young Wood, in 1871. Mary Virginia and Rebecca enrolled at Oberlin College (Ohio) in 1872 and returned to Davis Bend in 1874 as teachers. Economic and ecological troubles; the deaths of Joseph Davis in 1870, Benjamin Montgomery in 1877, and Mary Lewis Montgomery in 1885; the return of Hurricane and Brierfield to the Davis heirs; and the default on the mortgage for Ursino ended the Davis Bend colony by 1886. William Thornton Montgomery moved to the Dakota Territory, where he became a successful wheat farmer. Isaiah Montgomery took his wife, Martha, and their children to Vicksburg to start a mercantile business, and Benjamin Green moved to Newtown (now Newton), Mississippi.
When the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railroad Company advertised surplus land for sale in Bolivar County in 1887, Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin Green brought together friends from Davis Bend and Vicksburg to purchase 30,000 acres and clear and develop it into Mound Bayou. Isaiah Montgomery was the first mayor, and he and Benjamin Green owned or invested in many of the town's first businesses. Mary Virginia and Rebecca Montgomery were the first teachers in Mound Bayou, and in 1895 Mary Virginia was appointed postmistress. Milburn Crowe never knew Isaiah Montgomery, who died nine years before Milburn was born, but his aunt was secretary to Mayor Benjamin A. Green (Benjamin T.'s son and the first child born in Mound Bayou).
An unknown author provided a partial index for the first twenty-one pages of the album and wrote captions for some of the photographs. Additional information was added by the curator. A few photographs have come loose from their original positions in the album, and some have faded with time. Several pages are torn and water-stained, and the back cover of the album is missing. These facts, with the unknown authorship and incompleteness of the index and captions, mean identifications may or may not be accurate.
Milburn Crowe donated the photograph album to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in July 2005. The MDAH Archives and Records Services Division's Image and Sound section used a digital camera to capture images of the album in June 2006, creating native NEF files. These were converted to preservation-quality TIFF images and Web-friendly JPEG images by the Electronic Archives section and made available online within the MDAH Electronic Archives Graphic User Interface in August 2009.
Hermann, Janet Sharp. 1981. The Pursuit of a Dream. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hermann, Janet Sharp. 1990.
Hood, Aurelius P. 1909. The Negro at Mound Bayou: Being an Authentic Story of the Founding, Growth and Development of the "Most Celebrated Town in the South." Mound Bayou, Miss: A. P. Hood.
McMillen, Neil R. 2007. "Isaiah T. Montgomery, 1847-1924 (Part I)." Mississippi History Now, http://mshistory.k12.ms.us/articles/55/isaiah-t-montgomery-1847-1924-part-I (accessed May 20, 2009).
"Milburn James Crowe, 1933-2005." Mississippi History Newsletter, October 2005, http://mdah.state.ms.us/pubs/mhn/Oct2005_hi-res.pdf (accessed May 20, 2009).
Montgomery, Isaiah T. 1890. "Isaiah T. Montgomery Tells His Own Story: His Early Life as a Slave and the Path to His Success." New York World, September 1890.
Sterling, Dorothy. 1984. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. W. W. Norton & Co.
Wise, Ronnie W. 1986. "Milburn Crowe Preserves Town's Past." Bolivar Commercial, Cleveland, Miss., June 27, 1986.