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Osyka, Mississippi is a small town in Pike County, on the border of Mississippi and Louisiana. The community’s early economy was based on timber, which was gradually supplanted by cotton production as its timber resources waned. Founded on land owned by Jesse Redmond and John Carter in 1854, upon speculation of the coming of the railroad. When Osyka was chartered in 1858, it had a small Jewish population which was a significant part of the community’s legacy. When the railroad reached the town, about fifty additional Jewish families came to Osyka, mostly immigrants from Prussia, Germany, Alsace and Bavaria, where they were persecuted. In Osyka, they set up businesses as merchants, sales clerks, and horse traders, building the town’s first school, bakery, butcher shop, barber shop, and wheelwright. The Jewish synagogue in Osyka predated the first churches by two years, as the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches were established in 1859. The town’s Jewish population was well integrated within the community, serving as aldermen and in other civic positions, and some of its Jewish citizens were members in the local Lion’s Club and Masonic Order. During the American Civil War, the town served as a Confederate center for agriculture and as a weapons depot, and was negatively impacted by both sides. When Union troops came through the town, they destroyed many of its buildings and cotton crops, but Confederate General Lee’s troops took most of the town’s food, whiskey, horses, mules, boots and shoes, as well as much of its stores of corn and meal. In the early 1900s, many of the town’s Jewish people left for New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and its synagogue and German school were closed by 1900, and today the only evidence of the town’s Jewish population is the Jewish cemetery, which is maintained by the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Nearby communities include Chatawa, Emerald, and Gladhurst, in Mississippi, as well as Greenlaw and Kentwood, Louisiana.

 

 

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