There is a street that traverses the older segment of West Jackson and at one time plowed right through then Jackson State College. For years, this street bore the name Lynch Street. Wait a minute. A roadway named Lynch Street that leads to a historically black college? To the untrained eye, this would appear to be a blatant racial rub. However, despite Mississippi’s past history of lynchings, Lynch Street signifies something much greater than violent oppression. Instead, it represents a man who beat the odds of oppression and came to harness great political power. This man was John Roy Lynch.
John R. Lynch was born on September 10, 1847 near Vidalia, Louisiana. When his father died, he and his mother moved to Natchez, Mississippi in 1863 where they were held as slaves. Eventually, Civil War would ensue, and following the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch was a free man.
With a newly delivered freedom, Lynch got a job as a cook for the 49th Illinois regiment and worked other odd jobs. Time passed and Lynch became the manager of a photography studio. He prospered enough in this business to invest in local real estate.
By 1869, Lynch’s political career began to gain momentum. During Lynch’s time, the Republican Party was the party of choice for many African American politicians since it was the party of Abraham Lincoln who was directly associated with the Emancipation Proclamation. After speaking at the local Republican club the prior year, he was selected by the Republican Party as an advisor to Governor Adelbert Ames. This selection would eventually lead to Lynch’s appointment as justice of the peace. In November 1969, John R. Lynch was elected to the State House of Representatives. By the age of 24, his colleagues elected him as Speaker of the House, making Lynch the first African American to hold this position.
Lynch served in the state legislature for nine years, although not in consecutive terms. In addition to serving as state representative, he also served as delegate to four Republican National Conventions, chairman of the Republican State executive committee, and Auditor for the Treasury of the Navy Department among many, many other things.
In 1896, Lynch was admitted into the Mississippi Bar. He eventually opened a law office in Washington D.C. where he practiced for one year before being appointed as a major in the U.S. Army.
John R. Lynch lived 92 years, most of these he spent in service to the United States through political service or military duties. Lynch Street, was named in his honor. The street’s name was eventually renamed J. R. Lynch Street and finally John R. Lynch Street to reveal the full name of this prominent Mississippian.