In the late 1830s, James “Jim” Hill was born into slavery on the J. Hill Salem Road Plantation in Marshall County, Mississippi. For many years, he was a Reconstruction Era Republican Party leader, head of the Republican state executive committee, and national committeeman of the Republican Party for Mississippi.
One of the county’s most notable individuals was James W. Hill, the owner of the plantation where Hill was born and lived in slavery. Jim Hill is thought to be his son. Jim Hill was taught to read and write as a child by the slave owner’s two children. As a child, he maintained his studies by working as a machinist at the Holly Springs train shops. Hill swiftly advanced to the status of first-class mechanic as a diligent student and worker.
Hill’s first governmental office came after the Civil War, when he was named land registrar for Mississippi in 1867. He was elected to the Mississippi State Legislature in 1868 to represent Marshall County. He served a full term in that legislature and was among those who elected Hiram Revels to the United States Senate, making him the nation’s first African American senator.
Hill was appointed Secretary of State of Mississippi by Republican Governor Adelbert Ames in 1874. Hill remained in office after Ames left, until 1878, even after conservative Democrats seized control of Mississippi’s state government. Hill finished out his tenure under Democratic Gov. John M. Stone. He was Mississippi’s final statewide African American elected in the nineteenth century.
Hill was named district internal revenue collector by President Rutherford B. Hayes after serving as secretary of state. He served in this capacity for 12 years until retiring. In 1886, he was appointed postmaster of Vicksburg. He was the only Mississippi postmaster to fulfill a complete four-year term without Senate confirmation. Despite the Senate’s refusal to ratify Hill’s appointment at each session, the president would reappoint him immediately after Congress adjourned.
Hill ran for land registrar again in 1889, but newly elected President Benjamin Harrison did not approve his reappointment, removing him from the patronage list. Mississippi Democrats rejected the appointment, but an increasing number of white Mississippi Republicans are also opposed. Hill, on the other hand, kept his position as chair of the Republican State Executive Committee, which he held from 1884 until his death in 1903.
Hill never married and lived in a little house on West Capitol Street in Jackson, Mississippi, with his mother for many years. He was a member of the African Methodist Church and the Mississippi Deputy Grand Master of the Black Masons.
Hill had been in terrible condition for nearly a year before his death, suffering from liver problems. On June 12, 1903, he died suddenly of heart failure at his house. In his honor, an elementary school for African American children was established in West Jackson in 1912. The school was eventually called Blackburn Middle School once it was relocated. The current Jim Hill High School was built on Fortune Street in Jackson, Mississippi in 1966.