Mississippi, state in the Southeastern United States, bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Early explored by the Spanish and colonized by the French, Mississippi’s warm climate and rich soil proved ideally suited to cotton, which became the main crop even before 1800 and remained the mainstay of its economy until the 20th century.
Anglo-Saxon settlers from the older seaboard states flocked to Mississippi’s virgin lands, bringing black slaves to work their fields, and until 1940 blacks outnumbered whites. Even today Mississippi has a larger percentage of blacks than any other state. Relations between the races have tended to shape Mississippi’s history and to foster a conservative political philosophy and an insistence on state’s rights among its white majority. In recent years, however, blacks have begun to enter political and economic realms formerly virtually closed to them. At the same time, “king” cotton has made room for a more diversified agriculture, and Mississippi has undergone an industrial boom. Although Mississippians still cherish the columned mansions and hallowed traditions of their past, they can now boast a diversified industrial and agricultural economy.
Mississippi entered the Union on December 10, 1817, as the 20th state. Jackson, Mississippi’s capital and largest city, was founded at about the same time. The state takes its name from the Mississippi River, the great waterway that forms the state’s western boundary. The river’s name was derived from an Algonquin term for “big river.” Mississippi is commonly nicknamed the Magnolia State because of the great number of magnolia trees that grow within its borders. The blossom of the magnolia is the state flower.
Mississippi ranks 32nd among the states in size, with a total area of 125,433 sq km (48,430 sq mi), including 2,033 sq km (785 sq mi) of inland water and 1,528 sq km (590 sq mi) of coastal waters over which it has jurisdiction. It has a maximum length, from north to south, of about 530 km (about 330 mi) and a maximum width of about 290 km (about 180 mi). Its mean elevation is about 90 m (about 300 ft).
Mississippi lies wholly within the Gulf Coastal Plain, which is one of the principal natural regions, or physiographic provinces, of the southern United States (see Coastal Plain). The state can be divided into two sections, which, in order to distinguish clearly between them, are treated as separate natural regions in this article. Covering the western part of the state along the Mississippi River are the broad flat lowlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Covering the remainder of the state are the low hills of the East Gulf Coastal Plain. Both natural regions extend beyond the border of Mississippi into neighboring states and are but a small part of the Gulf Coastal Plain.
The portion of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain located in Mississippi is known as the Yazoo Basin. Locally referred to as the Delta, this region covers the western margins of Mississippi. The plain varies in width from about 105 km (about 65 mi) near Greenville to less than 1.5 km (less than 1 mi) south of Natchez. It includes the flat low-lying bottomlands along the Mississippi, Tallahatchie, Yazoo, and Big Sunflower rivers. Elevations are below 60 m (200 ft), the highest lands occurring on the natural levees along the major rivers. Away from the levees the land is often swampy, and floods were frequent until recent years, when reservoirs and channel improvements reduced the problem. The plain has productive soils that are good for cotton, soybeans, and rice.
The East Gulf Coastal Plain rises from sea level along the marshy Gulf Coast to a high point of 246 m (806 ft) at Woodall Mountain, in the Tennessee River Hills. Forming the western edge of the plain are the Bluff Hills, a belt of low hills from 8 to 24 km (5 to 15 mi) wide that extends the entire length of the state. Composed of fertile yellow soils known as loess, the Bluff Hills, or Loess Hills, are generally too eroded for profitable farming.
East of the Bluff Hills and curving in a broad arc from Meridian to the area around Oxford is a broad belt of low hills commonly designated as the North-Central Hills. Just east of the North-Central Hills lies the Flatwoods, the Pontotoc Ridge, and the Black Prairie regions. The Black Prairie is an extension of Alabama’s Black Belt, which is a narrow rolling strip of prairie land. Beyond the Black Belt, in the extreme northeast, are the steep hills and deep narrow ravines of the Tennessee River Hills. South of the North-Central Hills lies another narrow strip of prairie, the Jackson Prairie, and the Pine Hills and Coastal Meadows regions.
|B||Rivers and Lakes|
All the rivers of Mississippi drain into the Gulf of Mexico, either directly or by way of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi follows a meandering course along the state’s western edge. The river was designated the state line in 1817, but subsequent shifts in its sluggish course transferred small sections of Louisiana and Arkansas to points east of the river, while some sections of Mississippi are now on the western bank. During the flood season the surface of the river in its lower course is elevated more than 3 m (10 ft) above the surface of the land. As a result, artificial levees and other flood-control structures are needed to contain the river.
The major tributaries of the Mississippi in the state include the Yazoo, Big Black, and Homochitto rivers. The Yazoo River flows generally southward across the Mississippi Alluvial Plain between the Mississippi River and the Bluff Hills. It is formed by the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers and joins the Mississippi at Vicksburg.
The major rivers draining directly to the gulf are the Pearl and Pascagoula. The Pearl is fed by the Yockanookany and the Strong rivers. In its lower reaches the Pearl forms 187 km (116 mi) of the state line between Louisiana and Mississippi, the boundary following the East Pearl River when the river divides below Picayune. The West Pearl River flows through Louisiana. The Pascagoula, fed by the Leaf and Chickasawhay rivers, enters the Gulf of Mexico about 30 km miles (about 20 mi) east of Biloxi. The northeastern section of the state is drained by tributaries of the Tennessee River and the headwaters of the Tombigbee River.
Mississippi has no large natural lakes. The chief lakes in the state are all artificially created reservoirs behind dams. The largest lakes include Arkabutla Lake, on the Coldwater River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie; Sardis Lake, on the Tallahatchie; Enid Lake, on the Yocona River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie; Grenada Lake, on the Yalobusha; and Ross Barnett Reservoir, on the Pearl River. In addition, there are numerous oxbow lakes and other standing water bodies on the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Oxbow lakes are formed when a river cuts through the neck of one of its loops, or meanders, thus establishing a shorter course and leaving the former loop as a lake separate from the river.
Mississippi’s coastline on the Gulf of Mexico measures only 71 km (44 mi) in a straight line, but has a total length, including all bays, inlets, and promontories, of 578 km (359 mi). The coastline is extremely irregular. Offshore lies a series of low barrier islands, of which the largest are Cat, Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois islands. Behind the islands and partly protected by them from the gulf lies Mississippi Sound, which is traversed in part by the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
The climate of Mississippi is characterized by long, hot, and humid summers and generally mild winters. The higher lands in the northeast are usually cooler than other areas of the state.
Average January temperatures range from about 6° C (about 42° F) in northeastern Mississippi to about 12° C (about 54° F) along the Gulf Coast. No part of the state is entirely free from freezing temperatures, but prolonged periods of extreme cold rarely occur. Temperatures more than 15° C (30° F) below freezing have on occasion been recorded throughout the north and in much of the southwest. The lowest official temperature ever measured is -28° C (-19° F), recorded in 1966.
July average temperatures range from about 26° C (about 78° F) in the northeast to about 24° C (about 75° F) in the northwest. Days are generally hot and oppressive, with daytime highs often in the mid 30s° C (high 90s°F). The highest official temperature is 46° C (115° F), recorded in 1930. Nighttime temperatures afford little relief from the heat and rarely fall below 21° C (70° F). However, sea breezes provide more tolerable conditions along the coast.
Annual precipitation, or rainfall and snowfall, ranges from less than 1,200 mm (48 in) in a few northwestern areas to more than 1,500 mm (60 in) in most of the south. Most precipitation is in the form of rain. Snow falls occasionally but rarely remains on the ground for more than a few days.
Ice storms, though relatively rare, do occur in the state and are extremely damaging to the economy. In February 1994 a layer of ice, up to 15 cm (6 in) deep in some areas, coated north and western parts of the state, destroying millions of dollars worth of trees and leaving some people without electricity and water for several weeks. The state is also affected by thunderstorms, lightning, hail, fog, and droughts. In the late summer and the fall, the state is occasionally struck by hurricanes moving north from the Gulf of Mexico. Mississippi is also struck by tornadoes, especially during the period from February to May.
The growing season, or period from the last killing frost in the spring to the first killing frost in fall, is more than 200 days throughout almost all of Mississippi. In the north it ranges from 180 to 220 days, and in the extreme south along the Gulf Coast up to 280 days of the year are free of frost. The first major frost occurs in late October in the northern areas of the state and about a month later along the Gulf Coast. The last major frost can be expected in late February along the Gulf Coast and in middle and late March farther north.
Most of Mississippi is covered by red and yellow podzolic soils. These soils, developed from underlying clays, sands, and loess, are finely textured and acidic in reaction due to heavy precipitation and leaching. They are easily cultivated, and with the proper use of fertilizers they can produce good yields of cotton. On hilly sites they are subject to erosion.
Highly fertile alluvial soils cover the Yazoo Basin and the floodplains of the major rivers of the state. When properly drained and protected from flooding, these rich soils are capable of producing large yields of cotton and other row crops.
The Black Belt and some other areas contain fertile rendzina southern prairie soils. These soils are dark gray or black, with abundant organic matter derived from the original natural grass cover.
A narrow strip along the Gulf Coast, the Coastal Plain Meadows, is covered by boglike soils that are too wet and heavy for agricultural use. However, these soils support good stands of live oaks.
Forests once covered nearly all of Mississippi, but since the 18th century large areas have been cleared for farming. In recent decades abandoned farmland has been replanted with trees, and at present, forests cover 62 percent of the state’s land area. In recent years the value of forest products has risen to nearly ten percent of Mississippi’s manufacturing income.
The forests of the north consist of many species of oaks, such as the white, red, black, post, and willow oaks, and hickories, such as the bitternut, mockernut, and pignut. Other common hardwoods include the tulip tree, sycamore, and honey locust. In the forests of the delta, swamp oaks are common, occurring together with the bald cypress, sweet gum, tupelo gum, and eastern cottonwood and, to a lesser extent, the swamp cottonwood. North America’s largest cottonwood plantation is in the state, north of Vicksburg.
In central Mississippi the oaks and hickories are mixed with shortleaf pines and loblolly pines. The pines increase in abundance toward the south, and in the Piney Woods, longleaf pines and slash pines grow in nearly pure stands. Along the Gulf Coast, particularly in the southwest, are live oaks, which are usually thickly draped with gray-green Spanish moss. Common small trees and shrubs of Mississippi include the southern magnolia, which is the state tree, the huckleberry, mountain laurel, sassafras, American holly, hazel, and Hercules-club.
Natural grassland once covered most of the Black Belt section of northeastern Mississippi and the Jackson Prairie in central Mississippi. However, much of the land has been cleared for farming.
In the spring the forests are bright with wildflowers and flowering trees, such as the dogwood, redbud, red maple, azalea, silver bell, rhododendron, cross vine, and trumpet honeysuckle. In the fall the open fields are blanketed with such flowers as the black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, aster, and ironweed. The blossom of the magnolia is the state flower.
There has been a considerable decline in the wildlife population of Mississippi since the beginning of European settlement. Of the big game the bison, wolf, and cougar, which once were common, have disappeared. The white-tailed deer is now the largest relatively common mammal in the state, and in recent years the deer population has grown greatly. The most common small mammals in Mississippi are the fox, raccoon, opossum, skunk, woodchuck, cottontail, squirrel, armadillo, and weasel and, in coastal marshlands, the nutria.
Alligators, turtles, frogs, and terrapins are found in the swampy coastal areas of Mississippi. The nonpoisonous snakes of the state include the black, garter, king, and water snakes, and the poisonous snakes are the coral snake, cottonmouth or water moccasin, copperhead, and the pygmy, timber, and diamondback rattlesnakes.
The Mississippi flyway, one of the four major migratory bird routes of the continent, passes through Mississippi. Species of tropical land birds such as the wood thrush and the Kentucky warbler breed in the coastal and inland portions of Mississippi, while many other birds winter in the state’s marshes. Other migratory birds found in Mississippi during at least part of the year include the Canada goose, dunlin, least tern, sandwich tern, Bonaparte’s gull, and many species of ducks.
The principal birds of the pinewoods are the pine warbler, brown-headed nuthatch, Bachman’s sparrow, and red cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species. In the hardwood forests and open fields of the state are found the prothonotary warbler, hooded warbler, indigo bunting, and Swainson’s warbler. The southern pileated woodpecker is found in the forests of the state.
Noted varieties of freshwater fish of Mississippi are the largemouth bass, buffalo fish, carp, bullhead, bluegill, channel catfish, paddle fish, and crappie. In the waters of the gulf can be found the red and black drum, spotted sea trout, king and Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, mullet, croaker, tarpon, pompano, and flounder. Shrimps, blue crabs, and oysters are common shellfish.
The major concerns of conservation authorities in Mississippi are the prevention of soil erosion and water pollution, reforestation, the reclamation of infertile and wet lands, and flood control. The principal conservation agencies at work in the state include the United States Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). State agencies concerned with conservation are the Mississippi forestry commission; the state game and fish commission; the state board of health; and the state department of environmental quality, which houses the office of geology and the office of pollution control.
Severe soil erosion has resulted in a great loss of topsoil in some areas of the state and destruction of the land by gullying in other areas. In addition, continuous cotton cropping during the 19th and early 20th centuries robbed the land of its fertility. To restore soil fertility and to reduce soil erosion in the state, large areas of eroded cotton land have been taken out of cultivation and planted to pasture or trees. In other areas such soil-conserving measures as contour plowing, strip-cropping, crop rotation, and the use of cover crops have been instituted.
Reforestation measures in the state have greatly replenished Mississippi’s forest resources, and because forest soils are able to absorb much water, soil erosion and surface runoff have been reduced. Much of the reforested land is in the state’s six national forests.
Some of the most disastrous floods in the history of the United States have occurred along the lower Mississippi Valley. To control the floods, the Congress of the United States in 1928 authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to construct and maintain an extensive levee system along the river. In addition to flood control, conservation measures to prevent floods are widely used in the state. Major flood-prevention measures, all of which aim to retard the runoff of water from the land, include reforestation of watershed areas, contour plowing, strip-cropping, and the conversion of cotton land to pasture.
The problem of pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams by new and expanding industries, evidenced in particular by incidents of large fish kills, prompted the formation in 1966 of the state’s air and water pollution control commission, now the Office of Pollution Control. Its scientists and engineers have developed water quality standards and have made progress in abating water pollution. The major polluting industries are under orders of the office to construct adequate pollution control facilities.
In 1998 the state had one hazardous waste site on a national priority list for cleanup due to its severity or proximity to people. Progress has been made in efforts to reduce pollution; during the period 1995–2000 the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment was reduced by 9 percent.
Agriculture first became well established in the early 19th century, when the combination of cheap land and high cotton prices induced widespread agricultural settlement. Numerous large plantations were established, using slave labor to produce mainly cotton. However, they were ruined by the American Civil War (1861-1865). After the Civil War, sharecropping developed as a chief form of land tenure. In modern times, agriculture and forestry have continued to be important.
In addition, Mississippi has undergone considerable industrialization. Since the 1930s the state has developed its resources of natural gas and petroleum, and TVA power has become available in the northeast. In 1936 Mississippi established a pioneering regional development promotion with its Balance Agriculture With Industry program. Manufacturing is now the principal economic activity in the state, in terms of value of production.
In 1965 industrial employment for the first time exceeded employment in agriculture. By the early 1990s the number of those working in manufacturing exceeded agricultural workers by five fold. Of the 1,307,000 workers in 2006, 35 percent worked in service industries such as restaurants and data processing centers; 18 percent in wholesale or retail trade; 21 percent in federal, state, or local government, including those in the military; 15 percent in manufacturing; 3 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing; 5 percent in construction; 8 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 20 percent in transportation or public utilities; and 0.8 percent in mining. In 2005, 7 percent of Mississippi’s workers were members of labor unions.
In the late 1990s some two-fifths of Mississippi’s land was in farms. Crops were raised on 20 percent of all land in the state. There were 42,200 farms operating in 2005. The average size of a Mississippi farm is 106 hectares (262 acres). Farms can average less than half this size, especially in some parts of northeastern and southeastern Mississippi; the largest farms are found in the delta.
Farm tenancy has declined greatly in Mississippi since the 1940s, and in the late 1970s only about 10 percent of all farms were tenant operated. The rate of tenancy is highest in the highly productive farming areas of the delta. Farm living standards are below the national average in most of Mississippi and are lowest in the central and northwestern sections. Only 30 percent of farms produced annual income of more than $10,000 in 2005.
Crops provided 34 percent of farm income in Mississippi in the 2004. Cotton and soybeans are the leading crops. Mississippi is the fourth most important producer of cotton in the country, behind Texas, California, and Georgia. Although cotton is produced in many areas of the state, most of it is grown in the Delta, where flatlands make mechanical harvesting easier.
Acreage in cotton has declined under government acreage controls, but improved farming methods have increased the yield. Large areas once devoted to cotton now go into other crops, principally soybeans. Soybeans are also often rotated with cotton on the same acres. By the late 1990s soybeans brought in three-fourths as much income as cotton. Mississippi ranks fifth in the nation for the income produced by its rice crop. Corn is raised throughout the state as a feed crop, and its yield too has increased as acreage declined, thanks to new hybrids and better cultivation. Other crops are sweet potatoes, pecans, sorghum grain, hay, and wheat.
|A2||Livestock and Livestock Products|
Livestock and livestock products provided 66 percent of farm income in the state in the 2004. Cattle raising and poultry farming are major sources of income in southern and eastern Mississippi. Large areas of abandoned cotton land, ruined by erosion or boll weevil infestation, are used for cattle. Milk production has increased as the quality of dairy herds has risen. In the late 1990s, broilers were the leading source of livestock income. Mississippi is among the leading states in commercial broiler production. Poultry farming is particularly important in south-central Mississippi. Large numbers of eggs and some hogs are also produced.
Shrimps, oysters, and menhaden are the most important products of Mississippi’s offshore fishing industry, which produced $44 million for the state’s economy in 2004. Biloxi is a major center for both the shrimp and oyster fishing industries. Menhaden account for much of the annual catch, by quantity and value. Menhaden are used in making livestock feed, fertilizer, and other products. Pascagoula is a leading United States menhaden port and processing center. With nearly 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of catfish ponds, Mississippi is the leader among the states in the production of freshwater catfish on farms. In 1998 growers earned $307 million, or five times as much income from catfish as the next productive state, Alabama. Catfish farming is centered in Humphreys County in the Delta. In 1998 Mississippi produced more than one-half of farm-raised catfish in the United States. In areas otherwise not suitable for agriculture, Mississippi has made catfish farming the state’s fastest growing industry.
The state’s forests are a source of vast quantities of lumber and pulpwood. The longleaf pine is the principal commercial tree in the densely forested sections of southern Mississippi. Farther north the longleaf pine is gradually replaced by loblolly, slash, and shortleaf pines and by hardwoods, such as oaks, hickories, and tulip trees.
Millions of acres of private and national forest land have been reforested since the 1930s and are being managed as pine plantations. The pine plantations of Mississippi produce large quantities of pulpwood, as well as pine lumber. Naval stores, including turpentine, rosin, tar, and pitch, are also produced.
Crude oil and natural gas account for four-fifths of all mineral output, by value, in Mississippi. There are many small oil fields scattered across southern Mississippi. Natural gas production is also concentrated in the south. Most of the petroleum is refined elsewhere, but there are several refineries in the state. Other minerals produced include sand and gravel, portland cement, clays, and crushed stone.
In the late 1990s Mississippi was home to a well-diversified manufacturing sector. Food processors generated the most income for the state, particularly those engaged in processing poultry and eggs, making baked goods, preparing seafood, and meat packing. The production of chemicals and synthetics, such as drugs, agricultural fertilizers, and plastics, likewise contributed significantly to the economy. Lumber and wood products, including the processes of milling, crafting hardwoods, and making plywood, was another important industry. Other large industries were the makers of machinery, such as engines and turbines, refrigeration and heating equipment, and farm and garden tools; manufacturers of transportation equipment, including shipyards producing United States Navy, merchant marine, and commercial vessels; and the makers of upholstered, wood, and metal furniture, the industry that employed the most workers in the state. Other major industries in Mississippi are apparel manufacturers and textile mills, paper mills, electrical equipment manufacturers, rubber processors, and firms making primary metal products, such as structural supports used in construction.
Many industries have moved to Mississippi from the Northeast because of tax advantages, a large labor supply, weak unions and restrictions on organizing unions, and nearness to raw materials such as cotton.
Thermal plants burning coal, oil, or natural gas for fuel produced 74 percent of the electricity in Mississippi in 2005. The state’s sole nuclear plant in Grand Gulf generated the remaining 22 percent. Electricity is supplied by private utility companies and by rural electric power associations and municipalities. About half of the associations and the municipalities in the north and east parts of the state buy power from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Tourism is of increasing importance to the state’s economy. In 2002 spending by tourists totaled $5.3 billion. Parks, reservoirs, the Gulf Coast, and historic sites draw many visitors. In the early 1990s legalized gambling along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast increased the state’s attraction as a tourist destination.
The first important transportation routes in Mississippi were the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, flatboats, steamboats, and other watercraft carried cotton, lumber, and other products through Mississippi and down the river to New Orleans, Louisiana. Waterways remain important in the state. The state’s chief ports on the Mississippi River are Vicksburg, Greenville, and Natchez. Paralleling Mississippi’s coastline on the Gulf of Mexico is a section of the Intracoastal Waterway. Two busy ports on the Gulf Coast are Pascagoula, which handles more tonnage than any other in the state, and Gulfport. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in northeastern Mississippi, which opened in the early 1980s, connects the Tennessee River and the Ohio River valley to the Gulf of Mexico.
Among the state’s principal highways are interstate routes 20 and 55, which focus on Jackson, the principal route center of the state. In 2005 the state had 119,383 km (74,181 mi) of highway, including 1,098 km (682 mi) of the federal interstate highway system.
Most of the early rail lines in the state were destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War, and the modern rail network dates mainly from the 1880s. Jackson is the principal rail center. In 2004 lumber and wood products accounted for 27 percent of the railway freight originating in the state, wood pulp and paper made up another 17 percent, and chemicals another 26 percent. Mississippi had 3,993 km (2,481 mi) of railroad track in 2004.
Mississippi had 10 airports and airfields in 2007, many of which were private. Jackson International Airport is the state’s busiest.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF MISSISSIPPI|
According to the 2000 national census, Mississippi ranked 31st among the states in population, with a total of 2,844,658. This represented an increase of 10.5 percent since 1990, when the state’s population was 2,573,216.
In 2006 Mississippi had an average population density of 24 persons per sq km (62 per sq mi). The rural density was greatest in the Delta. Southeastern Mississippi was the most sparsely settled part of the state. Mississippi is a predominantly rural state with only 49 percent of the population living in urban areas in 2000, one of the lowest rates in the nation. However, the urban population has been growing steadily since 1940, while the rural population has been declining as the number of small farms has decreased. The population of the state’s small towns has remained relatively stable.
As counted by the federal census in 2000, whites constitute 61.4 percent of Mississippi’s population. Blacks are 36.3 percent, giving Mississippi a larger proportion of blacks in its population than any other state. Until 1940 blacks were a majority in the state. Mississippi was one of only four states that declined in population between 1940 and 1960, largely because of black emigration. The black population is particularly large in the Delta, where blacks constitute more than 60 percent of the population of most counties. Only in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the state do blacks account for less than 20 percent of the population. Asians are 0.7 percent of the population, Native Americans 0.4 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race 1.2 percent. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders numbered 667. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 1.4 percent of the people.
Jackson, the state capital and the largest city in Mississippi, had a 2005 population of 177,977. Besides serving as the seat of government, Jackson is the state’s leading manufacturing, railroad, and commercial center. Gulfport, with a population of 72,464, is primarily a shipping center and resort. Biloxi, with a population of 50,209, is an important fishing port and processing center for shrimp. Hattiesburg, with a population of 47,176, is a trade, transportation, and education center. Greenville had a population of 38,724. It is principally a river port and trade center. Meridian had a population of 38,605. It is the major trade center for eastern Mississippi. Manufacturing is also important in Meridian.
Pascagoula is a fishing port and an oil refining and shipbuilding center. Vicksburg and Natchez are river ports on the Mississippi. Both cities are tourist attractions because of their historical importance. Clarksdale and Greenwood are cotton markets and trade centers in the Delta. Other cities of regional importance include Tupelo, Laurel, and Columbus.
During the years of French rule, Roman Catholicism was the official religion of the Mississippi region. The period of British control from 1763 to 1783 made the Church of England the state church and attracted numerous Protestant settlers. Protestantism continued to increase even after part of the area passed to Spain and Roman Catholicism once more became official. The first Baptist church in the region was founded in 1791, and the first Methodist church in 1799. After the creation of the Mississippi Territory in 1798 these two denominations rapidly increased their membership among both whites and blacks in Mississippi. The first Presbyterian church in the territory was established in 1804. The Episcopal faith was largely confined to planters in the Mississippi River counties. Lutheranism was introduced into the state in the 1840s.
At the present time the great majority of church members in Mississippi are Protestants. Baptist congregations make up the largest Protestant group. In addition, there are also substantial numbers of Methodists. The Roman Catholic population is generally concentrated in the coastal area and along the Mississippi River. There are also some Jewish congregations in the state. At Jackson is the national headquarters of the Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A.
|V||EDUCATION AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS|
The first schools in the Mississippi region were set up by English settlers in the 18th century. The first free public school in the state, Franklin Academy, was founded at Columbus in 1821. Efforts to create a state school system were not made until the 1840s. Public schools for black students were first established in 1862. A uniform statewide public school system was finally established in 1870. In 1910 legislation was enacted by the state to consolidate rural school districts and to provide for free school transportation. School attendance was made compulsory in 1918.
Following the 1954 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that declared racial segregation in the public schools unconstitutional, white Mississippians sought to maintain their racially segregated schools. In an effort to assist them, the state abolished compulsory school attendance in 1956. However, in 1962 the federal government compelled the University of Mississippi to admit a black student, James Meredith. In 1964 it forced 19 elementary schools to admit a total of 57 black students. In the early 1970s, desegregation under federal court orders became widespread.
In 1986 the state completed the adoption of a new education program. The most important changes were the introduction of a public kindergarten system and the restoration of compulsory school attendance. Education is now compulsory for children ages 6 to 16. Private schools enroll 10 percent of the state’s children.
In the 2002–2003 school year Mississippi spent $6,356 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 15.1 students for every teacher (the national average was 15.9 students). Of those older than 25 years of age in 2006, 77.9 percent had a high school diploma.
The first college established in Mississippi was Jefferson College, which opened near Natchez in 1811. Mississippi College, in Clinton, was founded in 1826 as Hampstead Academy and is the oldest institution of higher education still in operation in Mississippi. The oldest state-controlled institution of higher learning is the University of Mississippi (founded in 1844), in Oxford. Other state-supported institutions are Alcorn State University, in Lorman; Mississippi State University, near Starkville; Mississippi University for Women, in Columbus; Jackson State University, in Jackson; the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg; Delta State University, in Cleveland; and Mississippi Valley State University, in Itta Bena. In 2004–2005 the state had 25 public and 15 private institutions of higher learning, including Millsaps College, in Jackson; William Carey College, in Hattiesburg; and Tougaloo College, in Tougaloo.
There are 49 county and regional public library systems in Mississippi. Each year the libraries circulate an average of 3.3 books for every resident, one of the lowest circulation rates among the states. The oldest library in Mississippi is the Mississippi State Law Library, originally established as the State Library in Jackson in 1838. The Mississippi Library Commission now functions as the state library agency. Also in Jackson is the library of the state department of archives and history. Major university libraries include those at the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Among the fine arts museums in the state are the Lauren Rogers Library and Museum of Art, in Laurel; the Mississippi Museum of Art, in Jackson; the Meridian Museum of Art; and the art museum of the University of Mississippi. Other museum collections at the universities are devoted to archaeology, geology, and the history of science. Three of the best-known museums in Mississippi, all in Jackson, are the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, affiliated with the state department of wildlife conservation, and the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry/National Agricultural Aviation Museum, affiliated with the state department of agriculture.
There were 20 daily newspapers published in the state in 2002. The first three founded in Mississippi were the Mississippi Gazette, which began operation in about 1800; the Intelligencer, established in 1801; and the Mississippi Herald, founded in 1802. All three papers were published in Natchez. The oldest existing newspaper in Mississippi is the weekly Woodville Republican, which began publication in 1824. The daily with the largest circulation is the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Other major daily papers include the Biloxi Sun Herald, the Meridian Star, the Tupelo Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, the Pascagoula Mississippi Press, the Hattiesburg American, and the Greenville Delta Democrat-Times.
The first radio station in Mississippi, currently known as WFOR, began operations as WDBT at Hattiesburg in 1925. The first television station, WJTV, was established at Jackson in 1953. There were 68 AM and 85 FM radio stations and 21 television stations in the state in 2002.
|E||Music and Theater|
All-day singings, or community singings of hymns and folk songs, are a popular tradition in Mississippi and are held regularly on the local, regional, and statewide levels. Symphony orchestras are found in some cities and towns in the state, including Jackson and Tupelo. Little-theater groups are active in many communities and universities.
|VI||RECREATION AND PLACES OF INTEREST|
Mississippi’s abundant water resources and mild climate provide residents and tourists with recreational opportunities throughout the year. Facilities for water sports include boating, swimming, and fishing in almost all the state-administered parks and recreation areas and in the recreation areas administered by the federal government.
The National Park Service administers seven units in Mississippi. Four of them, Tupelo National Battlefield, Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg National Cemetery, and Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, are associated with the American Civil War (1861-1865) (see Vicksburg, Campaign of; Brices Cross Roads, Battle of). Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the siege and defense of Vicksburg, one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. Today the battlefield at Vicksburg includes more than 1,300 monuments and markers, reconstructed trenches and earthworks, and cannon emplacements. The Vicksburg National Cemetery, established in 1866, contains more than 18,000 graves. The identities of those in nearly three-quarters of the graves are unknown. Soldiers from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War (1898), World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953) are buried in the cemetery. Natchez Trace Parkway, most, but not all, of which lies in Mississippi, follows the route of a historic Native American and pioneer road. The Mississippi section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore contains Fort Massachusetts and several primitive offshore islands. The newest unit, Natchez National Historical Park, is centered among one of the country’s best-preserved concentrations of homes from the time before the Civil War, known as the antebellum period.
The six national forests in Mississippi cover 467,000 hectares (1,153,000 acres). The largest, De Soto National Forest, covers more than 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of dense pine forest in the southeast. The other forests are Bienville, Delta, Holly Springs, Homochitto, and Tombigbee. Most of them have camping, hunting, fishing, and boating facilities.
Mississippi had 27 state parks in the mid-1990s. The oldest and among the largest is Leroy Percy State Park, set in a bayou area along the Mississippi River. Another is Tishomingo, in the rolling hills and woodlands of northeastern Mississippi. Percy Quin, in southern Mississippi, has hiking trails through pine and oak forests. Tombigbee is in pine-forested countryside in the northeast. Clarkco, in the east, is noted for its plant and animal life.
The Sam Dale State Historic Site, near Daleville, honors General Sam Dale, a frontiersman and hero of the War of 1812. The Nanih Waiya State Historic Site, in east-central Mississippi, features a mound considered by the Choctaw to be sacred.
|D||Other Places to Visit|
The Gulf Coast region is the most popular resort area in the state and is the site of notable historic attractions. One of them, the Old Spanish Fort, at Pascagoula, is said to be the oldest existing building in the lower Mississippi Valley. Built in 1718 as a carpenter’s or blacksmith’s shack, it and an associated museum adjoin a cemetery containing the graves of early settlers. Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, stands near Biloxi.
The Natchez area is the center of antebellum architecture in Mississippi. Many of the mansions and their beautiful gardens are open to visitors. Additional places of interest are found in and around Jackson and Vicksburg. In Jackson are the Governor’s Mansion, completed in 1842, and the former state capitol, which dates from the 1830s. The capitol building, seat of the state legislature until 1903, now houses the Mississippi State Historical Museum. Places to visit at Vicksburg include the Old Courthouse Museum, which contains mementos of the Confederacy; and the Cairo, a restored Civil War gunboat, which contains various historical artifacts from that era. The casinos in Mississippi are all located, as required by law, on naturally navigable waterways aboard permanently moored vessels. There are concentrations of resort casinos along the Gulf Coast and at several sites on the Mississippi River. The one exception is the casino not under state control located on the Choctaw reservation in Neshoba County.
The annual Biloxi Shrimp Festival, one of the most popular annual events in Mississippi, includes the crowning of a queen and the blessing of the shrimp fleet in June. Earlier in the year, Mardi Gras is celebrated at Pascagoula and Natchez. In March and April is the month-long Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, which includes pageants and tours of the antebellum mansions and their gardens. Similar pilgrimages are also held in spring at Aberdeen, Port Gibson, Vicksburg, Holly Springs, and Columbus and in cities along the Gulf Coast. Confederate Memorial Day is celebrated throughout the state in April. The Mississippi Arts Festival is also held in April, in Jackson, featuring a wide variety of performing artists. In May the Jubilee Jam Art and Music Festival is held in Jackson. In midsummer at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, townspeople move into cabins on the fairgrounds for a week; state politicians traditionally open their campaigns there. Around Labor Day some 200 hot-air balloons lift off during the Mississippi Sky Parade in Jackson, which includes an air show and balloon races. The Mississippi Fair and Dairy Show is held at Meridian the first week in October; and the Mississippi State Fair, in October at Jackson.
Mississippi has had four state constitutions, adopted in 1817, 1832, 1869, and 1890. To be adopted, a proposed amendment to the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of the members of each house of the legislature and by a majority of the voters who vote on it in a general election. The legislature may also call a constitutional convention to revise the constitution.
Mississippi’s chief executive official, the governor, is elected for a four-year term. A change in law effective in 1994 allowed for the first time the governor to serve consecutive terms, although a two-term limit was imposed. The governor enjoys wide appointive powers. Alone or subject to the approval of the senate, the governor appoints many of the members of the state’s more than 100 agencies, departments, boards, and commissions. The governor may veto proposed legislation, but the legislature can override a veto by a vote of two-thirds of the membership of each house. Other elected administrative officials, in addition to the governor, include the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, auditor of public accounts, superintendent of education, commissioner of insurance, and commissioner of agriculture and commerce. All officials serve four-year terms. The treasurer is prohibited from serving more than two consecutive terms.
The Mississippi legislature consists of a 52-member Senate and a 122-member House of Representatives. All legislators are elected for four-year terms. Regular sessions of the legislature are held annually, limited to 125 days the first year a new governor takes office and during even-numbered years of the governor’s term. Odd-year sessions are limited to 90 days. The legislature may extend its sessions by a two-thirds vote, however, and the governor may call special sessions.
The highest court in Mississippi, the Supreme Court, is composed of nine justices, who are elected from state districts for eight-year terms. The senior member of the court serves as the chief justice. The major trial courts in the state are the chancery courts, which concern themselves mainly with civil suits, and the circuit courts, which specialize in criminal cases. Some larger counties have county courts, which handle minor civil and criminal cases. Circuit, chancery, and county court judges are elected to four-year terms. Local courts in Mississippi include municipal, justice, and family courts.
Mississippi has 82 counties. The chief governing body in each is the board of supervisors, composed of five members elected for four-year terms. Other county officials, all elected to four-year terms, include the sheriff, tax assessor, superintendent of education (sometimes appointed), attorney, chancery clerk of court, and circuit clerk of court.
There are nearly 300 municipalities in Mississippi, most of which have the mayor and alderman form of municipal government. Most of the larger cities have the commission form of government.
Mississippi has four members in the U.S. House of Representatives and elects two senators. The state casts six electoral votes in Presidential elections.
Mississippi had a sizable prehistoric population. Many ceremonial mounds still stand throughout the state as reminders of the Hopewell culture (about AD 1-800) and the Mississippian culture (about AD 800-1500), both popularly called Mound Builders, whose people lived in highly organized farming communities.
In historic times, three nations of the large Muskogean linguistic stock were the principal Native American residents of the region. The Choctaw, the largest and most powerful, were dominant in most of central and southern Mississippi. The Chickasaw controlled the northern part of the state. The Natchez were dominant in southwestern Mississippi. Among these major peoples lived a number of smaller groups. By 1840 the great majority of Mississippi’s Native Americans had suffered fates common to most Native Americans in the eastern United States: extermination, forced relocation to other parts of the country, or assimilation with whites or with other Native American peoples.
There are still a few thousand Choctaw in the east-central part of the state, descendants of 5,000 who elected to stay and claim individual pieces of land when the rest of the nation was moved. Within 20 years they had been dispossessed of their claims, and for more than 100 years lived in poverty as sharecroppers and wage laborers. Recently they have organized as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, which runs several business enterprises and holds a prominent yearly regional fair, the Choctaw Indian Fair. They still speak the Choctaw language and play traditional stickball games.
|B||European Discovery and Settlement|
The first Europeans who entered the area were from Spain. Among them were the Hernando de Soto expedition (1539-1543) that explored large parts of the southern United States. De Soto is believed to have led his expedition westward across northern Mississippi late in 1540. The diseases brought by de Soto and his troops were devastating to the Native Americans, who lacked immunity to them. Their population dropped disastrously in the years after the Spaniards’ visit.
For about 130 years following de Soto’s expedition, there was no significant exploratory activity in the region. In 1673, the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet traveled down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River. Nine years later another French explorer, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, traveled down the Mississippi to its mouth and claimed for France all of the land drained by the river and its tributaries. La Salle named that vast region Louisiane (in English, Louisiana) in honor of the reigning French king, Louis XIV.
|C||The 18th Century|
The French built forts and settlements along the Gulf Coast and in the Mississippi valley. In 1699 they established the first fort and permanent settlement in the Mississippi region. Under the leadership of Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, they built Fort Maurepas and the settlement of Biloxi (later Old Biloxi) in the area of present-day Ocean Springs. Biloxi became the first settlement in Louisiana, which came to include various new settlements in the lower Mississippi valley and along the Gulf Coast. In 1702 Fort Maurepas was practically abandoned in favor of a new settlement on Mobile Bay in present-day Alabama. Mobile remained the capital and principal settlement of Louisiana until 1722, when the center of government was moved to New Orleans. Fort Rosalie, at the site of present-day Natchez, was established 1716.
Louisiana struggled as a royal colony from 1699 to 1712. As a result of fighting between France and Great Britain during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the colonists were cut off from France for years at a time. In 1712 the financially beleaguered French monarchy awarded a monopoly over Louisiana to wealthy French financier Antoine Crozat. Crozat did not develop the colony, and surrendered his rights to it in 1717. The colonist population remained quite small—only a few hundred—throughout his proprietorship.
In 1717 the right to develop the slow-growing colony was given to the Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West), headed by Scottish financier John Law. Law gained great influence at the French court through his establishment of what became the French national bank. Because the bank invested heavily in the Company of the West and because Louisiana was the company’s greatest asset, Law needed to develop the colony rapidly to maintain public confidence in the bank. He undertook a promotional campaign that brought in several thousand settlers. Several hundred of them settled at or near Fort Rosalie and along the nearby Gulf Coast.
Law’s promotional literature led immigrants to anticipate quick profits from mining and other endeavors that would require little effort and investment. However, the harsh world they found was dramatically different. Many died because the overwhelmed colonial government could not meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Most of the survivors stayed because they lacked the means to return to Europe. In the following decades the economy of the region remained a haphazard mixture of fur trading and small-scale agriculture.
Law’s promotional scheme, known as the Mississippi Bubble, fell apart in 1720 as word of the brutal colonial conditions reached France. The company survived, however, and continued to administer the colony until 1731. In that year, as a result of French warfare with the Natchez, Louisiana was returned to the French monarchy.
|C2||Wars with Native Americans and the British|
War with the Natchez, who resented the French for encroaching on their lands, had begun in 1729. In November of that year the Natchez attacked Fort Rosalie, killing more than 200 French settlers. In retaliation, the French, with help from the Choctaw, killed most of the Natchez and, in the following years, enslaved or scattered the rest.
The animosity of the Natchez was fueled by traders from Great Britain, which in the early 18th century was engaged in a long struggle with France for control of North America. In Mississippi the Chickasaw also sided with the British, and so eventually they too clashed with the French. However, the Chickasaw were noted warriors and proved a much tougher adversary than the Natchez. In 1736 the Chickasaw decisively defeated a French force led by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, Iberville’s brother and the governor of Louisiana, in the Battle of Ackia near the site of present-day Tupelo. Largely as a result of that defeat, French control of Mississippi was restricted to the southern part.
In the early 1760s the lengthy colonial struggle between France and Great Britain finally ended with France’s defeat in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Under the terms of the treaty ending the war, Great Britain acquired all of the former French claim east of the Mississippi River, including all of the present state of Mississippi. New Orleans and the territory west of the river had been ceded to Spain during the war.
Under the British that part of Mississippi south of latitude 31° north was included in the province of West Florida. The British moved the boundary northward and finally set it between latitudes 32° and 33° north, near present-day Vicksburg, in 1767. The king of Great Britain, by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, reserved the area north of that line for Native Americans, and settlement by whites was forbidden there without the permission of the Native American inhabitants. South of that line, settlers came from the British Atlantic Seaboard colonies. They were attracted particularly to the rich virgin bluffs around Natchez. During the American Revolution (1775-1783) the rate of migration increased as Loyalists (colonists loyal to the king) fled from the rebelling colonies.
Across the Mississippi River from West Florida was the remainder of Louisiana, now governed by Spain. During the American Revolution, Spain declared war on Great Britain. The governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez, led Spanish forces that captured major settlements in West Florida, including Baton Rouge, Natchez, and Pensacola. In 1781 Gálvez took over the administration of the region. Great Britain ceded West Florida to Spain in the peace treaty of 1783.
|C4||United States Rule|
By the peace treaty of 1783, the land that had been reserved for Native Americans became United States territory. The states to the east renewed their efforts to colonize it, claiming that swaths of that territory had been granted to them in their old royal charters. Typically these charters were vague about western boundaries or awarded the grantees all lands “from sea to sea.” Georgia claimed all of Mississippi north of latitude 31° north, and the influx of settlers from Georgia increased.
The United States and Spain disagreed about the northern boundary of West Florida. The United States maintained, on the basis of language in the peace treaty of 1783, that the boundary line was latitude 31° north. Spain insisted that it was the northern line set in 1767 by the British, and refused to remove its soldiers from Natchez, which was in the disputed area. The dispute, complicated by Georgia’s claim to land in Mississippi, brought forth a welter of schemes and plots. Finally, in 1795, under the terms of the Treaty of San Lorenzo, Spain accepted latitude 31° north as the northern boundary of West Florida.
Three years later, in 1798, Spain withdrew its forces from the area north of the boundary. The Congress of the United States then created the Mississippi Territory on April 7, 1798. The new territory was bounded on the north by a line drawn east from the mouth of the Yazoo River, on the south by latitude 31° north, on the west by the Mississippi River, and on the east by the Chattahoochee River, which now forms part of the eastern border of Alabama. A former Georgia governor, George Matthews, was appointed the territorial governor. Natchez was designated the first territorial capital. In 1802 the capital was moved to nearby Washington.
Matthews, however, never served as Mississippi governor because his land speculation activities evoked so much local opposition that he was almost immediately replaced by Winthrop Sargent. Matthews was the local agent of one of the four land companies that were granted vast tracts of land by the Georgia legislature in the Yazoo Fraud of 1795. The grant to Matthews’s company covered most of the Natchez district and, if validated, would have dispossessed all previous grantees. Most of the legislators held shares in the four companies, and the resulting public outcry resulted in the election of a new Georgia legislature (1796) that canceled the sale and offered refunds to the land companies. However, much of the land had already been resold, and the new buyers insisted on keeping it.
|D||The 19th Century|
In 1802 Georgia ceded its western land claims to the federal government, which agreed to settle the issues in the Yazoo Fraud. The cession included all the land then constituting the Mississippi Territory, as well as the land northward to the southern boundary of Tennessee. In 1804 that additional northern area was added to the Mississippi Territory. However, the area south of latitude 31° north still remained part of Spanish-held West Florida. Then, in 1810, United States settlers in West Florida rebelled against Spanish rule and declared their independence. The territory was subsequently annexed by the United States. In 1812 the part of the region west of the Pearl River was made part of the Territory of Orleans (now the state of Louisiana) and the region eastward to the Perdido River became part of the Mississippi Territory. With that addition, the Mississippi Territory included all the land now in the states of Alabama and Mississippi.
In Fletcher v. Peck (1810), the Supreme Court of the United States declared that, whether or not the Yazoo sale was proper, those later buyers who had bought in good faith from the original grantees were entitled to keep their land. If it was not turned over to them, they were entitled to damages for breach of contract. Thus, in 1814, Congress authorized payment of more than $4 million to the claimants.
In the following years the inhabitants of Mississippi Territory increased the pressure for statehood. Settlers in the Natchez region, which had the heaviest concentration of population and wealth, were the most insistent. Settlers east of the Pearl River were generally wary of statehood; they feared that the wealthy Natchez interests would control the state government. To accommodate the easterners, Congress in 1817 created the Alabama Territory out of what was formerly the eastern part of the Mississippi Territory. On December 10 of that same year, Mississippi was admitted to the federal Union as the 20th state. David Holmes, the last territorial governor, was elected the first governor under statehood, and Natchez was designated the state capital. In 1821 the capital was moved temporarily to Columbia pending selection of a site nearer the state’s geographic center. A site was selected on the P EarlRiver and was named Jackson in honor of the famous general and later president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. The capital was moved there in 1822.
During the first decades of the 19th century, thousands of farmers migrated westward in search of land for growing cotton. The population of the state grew from 7,600 in 1800 to 75,448 in 1820. Then settlement accelerated, and the state’s population rose to 136,621 by 1830. For the most part, the migrants settled in southern and west-central Mississippi. Northern Mississippi—two-thirds of the state’s total area—remained in the possession of the Choctaw and Chickasaw peoples.
By 1830 much of the good virgin land east of the Mississippi River was occupied by settlers, and the state legislature and courts put increasing pressure on the Choctaw and Chickasaw to give up their lands. Within the next three years the Choctaw and Chickasaw ceded their lands to the federal government and agreed to leave the state. Subsequently, settlers in unprecedented numbers migrated to Mississippi by river and road to settle on these vast newly ceded lands. By 1860 the state’s population rose to 791,305, of which about 45 percent were white settlers and the remainder black slaves, on whom the cotton economy depended. The state’s cotton production increased greatly. By 1860 Mississippi was the leading cotton-producing state in the nation, and cotton was the “king” of Mississippi’s agricultural products.
Although cotton was planted in almost every part of Mississippi, it was generally on the richest lands, such as those in the Black Belt or the Bluff Hills, that the large cotton plantations were concentrated. The rich alluvial lands of the Yazoo Basin, however, were initially shunned by settlers because of the danger of floods from the nearby Mississippi River. Then, in the 1850s, the state undertook an extensive program to build levees along the river, and these lands too were brought into cotton production.
|D3||The Civil War|
Slavery was one of the most divisive political issues in Congress in the first half of the 19th century. Members of Congress from the Northern states pressed to end slavery, both because it was considered immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Members from the Deep South (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida) believed that slavery was essential to their cotton-based agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the national economy. Both the slaveowners and nonslaveowners defended the system because they feared the consequences of abolitionism, the movement to end slavery totally and immediately.
By the 1850s, Southerners saw their power slipping in Congress, the clamor by Northern abolitionists was at a high pitch, and many in the South came to believe that secession from the Union was the only way to protect “Southern rights,” including the right to own slaves. A secession movement, led by extremists in Mississippi and other slave states, arose in 1850. It failed, however, when Congress passed the Compromise Measures of 1850, temporarily reconciling North and South on the issue of slavery.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The state of South Carolina, which had threatened to secede if the Republicans won, did so in December 1860. On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede. The next month, after five more states had seceded, the breakaway states organized as the Confederate States of America and began mobilizing for the war that was expected to follow. As their president the Confederates elected Mississippi cotton planter Jefferson Davis, a U.S. senator and former U.S. secretary of war. The American Civil War began officially on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery bombarded a federal fort in Charleston harbor.
The major military campaign in Mississippi during the war was the long Union Army drive leading to the capture of Vicksburg in July 1863. The loss of Vicksburg was a shattering blow because the city was the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. Early the next year a Union Army force under General William T. Sherman marched across the state from Vicksburg to Meridian. After the capture of Vicksburg, most Confederate troops were withdrawn from Mississippi. Some remained, however, under the leadership of Generals Nathan B. Forrest and Stephen D. Lee. These forces defeated several Union attempts to capture northeastern Mississippi in 1864, most notably in the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, near Baldwyn, in June. In all, about 80,000 Mississippians fought for the confederacy. About 25,000 Mississippi soldiers, or one out of every three, died in the war from wounds and disease.
Under President Andrew Johnson, the federal government formed a plan for restoring the Union, called Reconstruction. Johnson appointed William L. Sharkey as provisional governor of Mississippi in June 1865 and directed him to reorganize the state government. Amendments to the state constitution were made in August, formally abolishing slavery. A new government, elected in October, was dominated by former Confederates. This government enacted the so-called Black Code, which reimposed on the freed blacks many of the old restrictions that had been placed on slaves. All blacks were required to possess, every January, written evidence of employment for the coming year. Laborers leaving their jobs before their contract expired would forfeit wages already earned and would be subject to arrest. Freedmen could not rent land in urban areas. Vagrancy was punishable by plantation labor. Blacks were also denied the right to vote.
Similar codes were enacted by other Southern legislatures. Partly for this reason, the Radical wing of the Republican Party in Congress wrested control of Reconstruction from President Johnson and imposed the harsher regime called Radical Reconstruction. In March 1867, Congress put all the ex-Confederate states except Tennessee under military rule. Readmission to the Union was made conditional on the adoption of new constitutions acceptable to Congress. In January 1868 another constitutional convention, the so-called Black and Tan Convention, met in Jackson and drafted a constitution guaranteeing the vote and other basic rights to blacks. The proposed new constitution was defeated by the electorate in June 1868 but was approved in November 1869. Mississippi was formally readmitted to the Union on February 23, 1870.
The new state government was Republican and consisted mainly of whites from the North (called carpetbaggers by their enemies), white Southerners who were willing to cooperate (called scalawags), and blacks. From the first, the administration faced a hostile white population and economic disruption. Even so, it had positive achievements, among them free public schools for all. However, the Democratic Party grew in strength as former Confederates received federal pardons and were again allowed to participate in politics. Also, increasing numbers of blacks and white Republicans were intimidated by such terrorist organizations as the Ku Klux Klan. Finally, in the elections of 1875, Democrats gained control of the state legislature, and in 1876 the legislature undertook impeachment proceedings against Republican Governor Adelbert Ames, Lieutenant Governor A. K. Davis, and other officials. Ames resigned, Davis was removed from office, and the president pro tempore of the state senate, a Democrat, became governor. Thus began more than a century of one-party rule of the state by the Democratic Party.
The physical devastation caused by the Civil War, the freeing of the slaves, and the chaos of the Reconstruction era had ruinous effects on Mississippi’s economy. Money was scarce, and bankruptcy was common. Massive poverty afflicted the newly freed blacks, many of whom had no prospect of earning a livelihood. In some instances the former slaves were granted small tracts of land by the federal government. More often they became sharecroppers or tenant farmers on lands either still owned by planters or recently purchased by large Northern corporations.
Sharecropping and tenant farming were substitutes for paid labor where little cash was available to pay wages. A sharecropper raised part of the landlord’s crop and was paid a share of the profits after deductions for living expenses and the cost of tools and supplies. A tenant farmer sold what he raised and paid the landlord a share of the profits as rent. The landlord either owned the crop (in sharecropping) or had a lien on it (in tenant farming); if the profit was low, he got his share first. The cropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, got an advance to keep going until the next harvest.
Desperate to recover financially, landowners relied almost exclusively on their traditional cash crop, cotton. Agriculture failed to diversify. By 1879, cotton production equaled its prewar peak. However, the return of high levels of cotton production failed to improve the lot of most Mississippians because the price for cotton declined through most of the postwar decades, and living costs rose. Mounting debt forced many small farmers to give up their land and become tenants or sharecroppers. Kept in perpetual debt because they could seldom earn enough to pay off their yearly advances, few were able to escape the sharecropping and tenant farming system. Not until World War II (1939-1945), when widespread mechanization of cotton production made sharecropping unprofitable, did the system begin to disappear.
|E||The 20th Century|
|E1||Populism and Reform|
In the years following Reconstruction, the Democratic Party and state government were dominated by wealthy landowners and business leaders. Then, in the last decades of the 19th century, small independent farmers and, to a lesser extent, white tenant farmers and sharecroppers became increasingly dissatisfied with the conservative political leadership of the planters and industrialists. Farmers experienced a sharp decline in income, and the Democratic Party did little to help them. Some farmers deserted the Democrats and started a reform movement represented by the Farmers’ Alliances and the People’s Party. This movement, called populism, pressed for the unlimited issuance of silver and paper money to produce inflation, raise farm prices, and allow farmers to pay off their debts with cheap money. Populists supported farmers’ cooperatives, lower freight rates, regulation of the railroads, a graduated income tax, direct popular elections of U.S. senators, and an eight-hour workday.
With the adoption of popular primary elections in the state shortly after the turn of the century, the small farmers gained control of the state Democratic Party. Politicians appealed to the small farmers with flamboyantly racist speeches; by attacking local and national banking, railroads, and other corporate interests; and by advocating reforms beneficial to the small farmers. Governors James K. Vardaman (1904-1908) and Theodore G. Bilbo (1916-1920, 1928-1932) were characteristic of the politicians who appealed to small farmers through most of the first three decades of the 20th century. Reforms enacted during that period included larger budgets for education; lighter tax burdens on small farmers; state regulation of railroads, banks, and other corporate enterprises; and reform of the state penal system.
|E2||The Great Depression and World War II|
The onset of the Great Depression, the hard times of the 1930s, wreaked new havoc on the Mississippi economy. However, by its very severity the depression spurred some long-needed economic developments in the state. Federal farm programs initiated during that decade encouraged better soil conservation practices and greater crop diversification. For its part, the state government undertook its most concerted effort to encourage industrial growth. The Balance Agriculture With Industry (BAWI) program of Governor Hugh L. White, enacted in 1936, enabled the state and local governments to issue bonds for the construction of industrial plants to be leased to private industries. In addition, the program provided for five-year tax exemptions for some industries. By 1940 the state had achieved modest industrial growth.
World War II spurred some economic growth in Mississippi. Because of the state’s mild climate, a number of army camps and air force bases were built in Mississippi. The largest of these were Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg and Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. Ingalls Shipbuilding at Pascagoula helped create a wartime boom on the Gulf Coast. High wartime wages and nearly full employment brought former sharecroppers into the towns. Farm income soared, and when the war ended, most large farmers had surplus funds which could be used for mechanization.
|E3||The Civil Rights Movement|
Segregation remained a part of life in Mississippi after the Civil War. Not until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s did change begin. Some of the key events of this movement took place in Mississippi. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education called for an end to racial segregation in public schools throughout the United States. The Brown decision directly affected Mississippi, where school segregation had long been required by state law. However, total segregation of all state educational institutions was maintained until 1962, when James Meredith became the first black to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Meredith’s enrollment was accomplished only with the help of marshals acting under a federal court order, after Governor Ross Barnett refused to allow it and segregationists rioted on campus. Public schools below the college level were first desegregated in 1964. Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and Millsaps College were desegregated in 1965.
Attempts were made to end segregation in other areas of life. In 1961 the “freedom rides” were organized by a civil rights activist organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to challenge segregation at interstate bus stations in the South. The freedom rides chartered buses for a trip through the South. They were mobbed and beaten, and one of their buses burned, in Alabama. When they reached Jackson, Mississippi, they were arrested and imprisoned for 45 days at the state penitentiary, thus ending the protest. However, the freedom rides left the strong impression that blacks were willing to subject themselves to violence to end segregation.
Voting by blacks in Mississippi had been suspended by intimidation and violence in 1875 and made difficult by registration requirements, such as the poll tax, in the state constitution of 1890. Starting in 1961, another activist organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organized voter registration campaigns in heavily-black, rural counties of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In McComb, Mississippi, Robert Moses of SNCC led a registration effort despite constant terrorism. In 1962 and 1963 SNCC worked for voter registration in the Mississippi Delta, where it found local supporters like activist farmworker Fannie Lou Hamer. The rising tide of civil rights protest caused a violent reaction from Mississippi’s white supremacists: In June 1963 Medgar Evers, state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was shot dead in front of his Jackson home.
SNCC workers helped organize the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism by recruiting Northern college students to work in the state. The project drew national scrutiny, especially after three project participants—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—were murdered in Neshoba County.
The Summer Project led directly to the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). When white Democrats in Mississippi refused to accept black members in their delegation to the Democratic National Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer and others went to the convention and challenged their right to represent Mississippi. National party officials offered two convention seats to the MFDP delegation, but they rejected the compromise and went home. However, the MFDP challenge later resulted in more openness to blacks and other minorities in the Democratic Party.
Much progress was made in registering black voters after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The most obvious effect was in the number of political offices opened to black candidates. By 1996, 10 of the 52 members of the Mississippi Senate were black, as were 34 of the 122 members of the House of Representatives. Law enforcement was integrated, and many blacks began to hold local and county positions, both elected and appointed.
|E4||Revolution in Agriculture, 1945-1995|
For more than a century before World War II, Mississippi’s economy was dominated by agriculture, especially cotton. The intense hand labor required in the cotton fields was supplied before the Civil War by slaves and afterward by sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Initially, most sharecroppers were black, but by the Great Depression most were whites who had lost their small landholdings as cotton prices declined. Tenancy kept all but the planters and merchants in perpetual poverty and ignorance.
After World War II Mississippi’s agricultural economy underwent a revolution driven by mechanization, crop diversification, and consolidation. Tractors appeared on some large plantations in the 1920s, but after World War II federal crop subsidies and high commodity prices provided money for rapid and complete mechanization. Tractors, mechanical cotton pickers, and combines almost eliminated field labor. The introduction of herbicides, defoliants, and pesticides completed the revolution. Plantations that had provided livelihoods for dozens of tenant families quickly became completely mechanized and today employ only a few machine operators. As the new methods took hold, tenants were dispossessed and farms grew larger and more centralized. In 1900, 75 percent of all Mississippians made their livings on farms. In contrast, by 1990 only 2.7 percent of Mississippi’s labor force worked on farms.
Within Mississippi’s agricultural economy, cotton was challenged by such products as soybeans, cattle, rice, poultry, and catfish. While cotton still produces more money than any other single Mississippi crop, it no longer dominates the agricultural economy. Soybeans, rice, poultry, and catfish together produce more than twice as much farm income as cotton, and the value of poultry alone almost equals that of cotton.
|E5||Growth of Industry and Trade|
Governor White’s BAWI program in 1936 was the first serious effort to industrialize Mississippi’s economy. Every governor since World War II has encouraged industrialization and has favored bringing more industrial jobs to the state. The decline in agricultural employment and the rise of industrial employment has been rapid. In 1951, 40 new plants providing 5,200 new jobs located in Mississippi. In 1965 Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr., announced that for the first time in the state’s history, industrial employment had surpassed agricultural employment. In 1977 more than 120 new plants brought more than 10,000 new industrial jobs. Mississippi’s per-capita income rose from $830 (50 percent of the national average) in 1951 to $5,529 (71 percent of the national average) in 1977. In 1993 Mississippi’s per-capita income stood at $14,894, or 71.6 percent of the national average. By 1990 only 29,300 Mississippians, or 2.7 percent of the labor force, worked on farms, while almost 250,000, or 22.7 percent, worked in factories. Trade and service industries employed 363,700 Mississippians, while another 210,000 (20 percent) were employed by government.
The largest employers were manufacturers of clothing, food products, furniture, and lumber and wood products. Important parts of this industrial growth were linked to Mississippi’s agricultural products. Among Mississippi’s largest employers today are plants for processing poultry and catfish. Similarly, industries based on wood products—paper and pulp mills, and an increasingly important furniture industry in northeast Mississippi—all spring from timber, Mississippi’s most abundant resource. Centers of heavy industry have arisen along the Gulf Coast. Litton Shipbuilding at Pascagoula is the state’s single largest employer. Centers of heavy industry have also developed in cities along the Mississippi River like Natchez, Vicksburg, and Greenville.
|E6||Persisting Economic Problems|
Some economic problems persist. Too many Mississippians lack the technical and educational skills necessary for high-wage, sophisticated industries. This is especially true in the Delta and the central hill counties. Too many Mississippians depend for their livelihoods on government: In many depressed counties the chief source of income is government payments such as welfare and social security.
|E7||Changing Population Patterns|
Changes in Mississippi’s economy have been paralleled by major demographic changes. Beginning in World War II, large numbers of black Mississippians migrated to Northern cities to find better pay and freedom from segregation. Agricultural mechanization and consolidation forced large numbers of black Mississippians from the countryside into nearby towns.
The number of blacks in Mississippi’s population has declined dramatically. In 1900 six of every ten Mississippians were black. By 1990 Mississippi’s black population numbered 915,000, or 36 percent of the state’s total population of 2,578,000. This decline in black population was entirely the result of black migration to Northern cities. Meanwhile, another migration was occurring inside Mississippi. Before World War II, most black Mississippians lived as tenants on plantations. Farm mechanization forced them off the land and into nearby towns. Today in the old plantation areas of Mississippi, the countryside is largely white while many of the towns have black majorities.
The decline of agricultural employment and the rise of manufacturing and trade have produced new living patterns for Mississippians. Since World War II, Mississippi’s largest cities have been growing, but most small towns and villages have been shrinking or disappearing. The growth of three metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) accounts for most of Mississippi’s urban growth. The Jackson MSA is Mississippi’s largest urban area with a population of 395,000. On the Gulf Coast two urban areas, Biloxi-Gulfport and Pascagoula-Moss Point-Jackson County, constitute one MSA and account for a population of 315,000. DeSoto County in north Mississippi (68,000) is part of the Memphis MSA. These MSAs account for 64 percent of Mississippi’s urban dwellers.
Despite the growth of these large urban areas, Mississippi remains a rural state. In 1970 only 45 percent of Mississippians lived in cities. By 1990 that figure had risen to only 47 percent. The larger metropolitan areas are growing at the expense of smaller towns and cities. A very large number of Mississippians continue to live in rural areas and commute to jobs in nearby towns and cities.
The civil rights issue assumed overwhelming importance in Mississippi politics in the 1960s. In the 1964 presidential election, most white Mississippians supported the Republican candidate, Barry M. Goldwater, largely because he championed states’ rights and had opposed the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time only about 6 percent of blacks, who made up nearly 40 percent of the state’s population, were registered to vote due to intimidation, phony literacy tests, and other obstacles placed in their path.
Following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, racial politics continued to divide Mississippi. The traditional allegiance of white Mississippi voters to the Democratic Party, which at the national level had backed the civil rights legislation, began to seriously erode during the 1960s. Black Mississippians, whose voter registration increased to nearly 60 percent by 1968 and to 74 percent by 1998, largely supported the Democratic Party. However, the black percentage of the population had declined to 36 percent by 1990. In the eight presidential elections from 1964 through 1992, Mississippi voted for the Democratic candidate only once: Jimmy Carter narrowly carried the state in 1976. In 1968 third-party states’ rights candidate George Wallace carried Mississippi. In the other six elections the Republican candidate won.
Similarly, most white Mississippians have swung to the Republicans in congressional elections. Both of Mississippi’s senators and two of its four congresspeople are Republicans. In 1991 Kirk Fordice became the first Republican to be elected governor in 120 years. Fordice became the first Mississippi governor in the 20th century to serve consecutive terms when he was reelected in 1995. In 2000, however, the Democrats regained control of the governorship. After no candidate received a majority of the votes in the 1999 general election for governor, the state House of Representatives, following constitutional procedure, chose Democrat Ronnie Musgrove as governor. Musgrove was defeated in a general election in 2003 by Republican Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
In 2005 Mississippi continued a process that had begun in the early 1990s to hold accountable those who had murdered civil rights activists during the 1960s. In 1994 Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of the 1963 murder of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1998 Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers was convicted of the 1966 firebombing death of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Then in January 2005 a former Ku Klux Klan member was charged with murder and manslaughter in the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. It was the first time state murder charges had been filed. In June the former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty of manslaughter.
In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, causing the costliest natural disaster in United States history. Harrison County, Mississippi, bore the brunt of the Category 3 hurricane, which slammed into the nearby Louisiana coast with maximum sustained winds of 204 km/h (127 mph) before heading inland. The powerful winds and storm surges completely or nearly destroyed coastal cities such as Biloxi and Gulfport. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour estimated that it would take years to rebuild the state following the “indescribable” destruction along the coast.
Due in part to the economic importance of gambling casinos that lined the Mississippi coast, the rebuilding effort quickly gained steam. Many casino operations were soon back up and running and providing employment. Barbour enjoyed a reputation for adroit handling of the crisis, and he was reelected in November 2007.
The History section of this article was contributed by John Ray Skates, Jr. The remainder of the article was contributed by Charles L. Wax.