History of Mississippi

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The state of Mississippi's history goes back beyond American statehood to ancient Native American times.

Native Americans[edit]

Choctaw Village near the Chefuncte by Giovanni Bernard, 1869, Peabody Museum Harvard University. The women are preparing dye to color cane strips for making baskets.

At the end of the last Ice Age Native American or Paleo-Indians appeared in what today is the South.[1] Paleo Indians in the South were hunter-gatherers who pursued the mega fauna that became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. After thousands of years, the Paleo Indians developed a rich agricultural society. Archeologists called these people the Mississippians of the Mississippian culture.[2]

Descendant Native American tribes include the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Other tribes who inhabited the territory of Mississippi (and whose names became those of local towns) include the Natchez, the Yazoo, the Pascagoula, and the Biloxi.

European colonial period[edit]

The first major European expedition into the territory that became Mississippi was that of Hernando de Soto who passed through in 1540. The French claimed the territory that included Mississippi as part of their colony of New France and started settlement. They created the first Fort Maurepas under Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville on the site of modern Ocean Springs (or Old Biloxi) in 1699.[2]

In 1716, the French founded Natchez as Fort Rosalie; it became the dominant town and trading post of the area. In the early 18th century, the Roman Catholic Church created pioneer parishes at Old Biloxi/Ocean Springs and Natchez. The church also established seven pioneer parishes in Louisiana and two in Alabama, which was also part of New France.[3]

The French and later Spanish colonial rule influenced early social relations of the settlers who held enslaved Africans. As in Louisiana, for a period there grew a third class of free people of color, whose origin was chiefly as descendants of white planters and enslaved African or African-American mothers. The planters often had formally supportive relationships with their mistresses of color and arranged for freedom for them and their multiracial children. The fathers sometimes passed on property or arranged for the apprenticeship or education of children so they could learn a trade. Free people of color often migrated to New Orleans, where there was more opportunity for work and a bigger community.[2]

Like Louisiana as part of New France, Mississippi was alternately ruled by Spanish, and British. In 1783 the Mississippi area was deeded by Great Britain to the United States after the American Revolution under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.

Historical populations


Territory and statehood[edit]

Before 1798 the state of Georgia claimed the entire region between the Mississippi and Chattahoochee rivers and tried to sell lands there, most notoriously in the Yazoo land scandal of 1795. Georgia finally ceded the disputed area in 1802 to the national government; in 1804 the northern part of the cession was added to Mississippi Territory.

Mississippi Territory dark.gif

The Mississippi Territory was sparsely populated and suffered initially from a series of difficulties that hampered its development. Pinckney's Treaty of 1795 ended Spanish control over Mississippi but Spain continued to hamper the territory's growth by harassing commercial traders. Winthrop Sargent, governor in 1798, proved unable to impose a code of laws. Not until the emergence of cotton as a profitable staple crop and the accompanying rise of slave labor did Mississippi begin to flourish.[4]

There were land disputes with the Spanish, and in 1810 the settlers in parts of West Florida rebelled and declared their freedom from Spain. President James Madison declared that the region between the Mississippi and Perdido rivers, which included most of West Florida, had already become part of the United States under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase. The section of West Florida between the Pearl and Perdido rivers, known as the District of Mobile, was annexed to Mississippi Territory in 1812; Americans occupied Kiln, MS in 1813.


The attraction of vast amounts of high quality, inexpensive cotton land attracted hordes of settlers, mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas and from tobacco areas of Virginia and North Carolina at a time when growing tobacco barely made a profit. From 1798 through 1820 the population soared from less than 9,000 to more than 222,000. Migration came in two fairly distinct waves - a steady movement until the outbreak of the War of 1812 and a flood from 1815 through 1819. The postwar flood was caused by various factors including high prices for cotton, the elimination of Indian titles to much land, new and improved roads, and the acquisition of new direct outlets to the Gulf of Mexico. The first migrants were traders and trappers, then herdsmen, and finally farmers. The Southwest frontier produced a relatively democratic society.[5]


After 1800 the development of a cotton economy in the South changed the economic relationship of native Indians with whites and slaves in Mississippi Territory. As Indians ceded their lands to whites, they became more isolated from whites and blacks. A great wave of public sales of former Indian land plus white migration (with slaves) into Mississippi Territory guaranteed the dominance of the developing cotton agriculture.[6] Mississippi is one of the nation's cotton-growing regions.


In 1817 elected delegates wrote a constitution and applied to Congress for statehood. On Dec. 10, 1817, the western portion of Mississippi Territory became the State of Mississippi, the 20th state of the Union. Natchez was the first state capital; the capital was moved to Jackson in 1822.[7]


While the Catholic Church was active along the coast, Protestant religious activities began inland in the Mississippi Territory after 1799. Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians formed the three leading denominations in the territory. Deism and other religions were also present, but in smaller numbers. Protestant ministers won converts, often promoted education, and had some influence in improving the treatment of slaves.[8][9]


William C. C. Claiborne (1775–1817), a lawyer and former Republican Congressman from Tennessee (1797–1801), was governor and superintendent of Indian affairs in the Mississippi Territory from 1801 through 1803. Although he favored acquiring some land from the Choctaw and Chicasaw, Claiborne was generally sympathetic and conciliatory toward Indians. He worked long and patiently to iron out differences that arose, and to improve the material well-being of the Indians. He was also partly successful in promoting the establishment of law and order, as when his offering of a two thousand dollar reward helped destroy a gang of outlaws headed by Samuel Mason (1750–1803). His position on issues indicated a national rather than regional outlook, though he did not ignore his constituents. Claiborne expressed the philosophy of the Republican Party and helped that party defeat the Federalists. When a smallpox epidemic broke out in the spring of 1802, Claiborne's actions resulted in the first recorded mass vaccination in the territory and saved Natchez from the disease.[10][11]

Native American lands[edit]

Land was purchased from Chickasaw and Choctaw Native American tribes from 1801 to about 1830. After 1800 the development of a cotton economy in the South changed the economic relationship of native Indians with whites and slaves in Mississippi Territory. As Indians ceded their lands to whites, they became more isolated from whites and blacks. The following table illustrates ceded land in acres:

TreatyYearSigned withWherePurposeCeded land
San Lorenzo1795Between Spain and United StatesSan Lorenzo de El Escorial, SpainThe treaty, also known as Pinckney's Treaty, put Choctaw & Chickasaw country under U.S. controln/a
Fort Adams1801ChoctawMississippi TerritoryRedefined Choctaw cession to England and permission for Natchez Trace2,641,920 acres (10,691.5 km2)
Fort Confederation1802ChoctawMississippi Territoryn/a10,000 acres (40 km2)
Hoe Buckintoopa1803ChoctawChoctaw NationSmall cession of Tombigbee River and redefined English treaty of 1765853,760 acres (3,455.0 km2)
Mount Dexter1805ChoctawChoctaw NationLarge cession from Natchez District to the Tombigbee Alabama River watershed4,142,720 acres (16,765.0 km2)
Fort St. Stephens1816ChoctawFort ConfederationCeded all Choctaw land east of Tombigbee River10,000 acres (40 km2)
Doak's Stand1820ChoctawNatchez Trace, Choctaw NationExchanged cession in Mississippi for parcel in Arkansas5,169,788 acres (20,921.39 km2)
Washington City1825ChoctawExchanged Arkansas land for Oklahoma parcel2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2)
Dancing Rabbit Creek1830ChoctawChoctaw NationRemoval and granting U.S. citizenship to Choctaws10,523,130 acres (42,585.6 km2)
Pontotoc1832ChickasawPontitock CreekSeek a home in the west6,283,804 acres (25,429.65 km2)


The exit of most the Native Americans meant that vast new lands were open to settlement, and tens of thousands of immigrant Americans poured in. Men with money brought slaves and purchased the best cotton lands in the "Delta" region along the Mississippi River. Poor men took up poor lands in the rest of the state.


By the 1830s Mississippi was a leading pink in 1820 cotton producer, and demands for slaves, on whom the crop depended, increased. They were considered a "necessary evil" for the survival of the cotton economy, and were brought in from the border states and the tobacco states where slavery was declining.[12] The 1832 constitution forbade the further importation of slaves, but the provision was found to be unenforceable, and it was repealed. As planters increased their holdings of land and slaves, the price of land rose, and small farmers were driven into less fertile areas. An elite slave-owning class arose that wielded disproportionate political and economic power. By 1860, of the 354,000 whites, only 31,000 owned slaves and two thirds of these held fewer than 10. Fewer than 5,000 slaveholders had more than 20 slaves; 317 possessed more than 100. These 5000 planters controlled the state. In addition there was a middle element composed of farmers who owned land but no slaves, together with a small number of businessmen and professionals who lived in the villages and small towns. The lower class, or "poor whites," occupied marginal farm lands remote from the rich cotton lands and grew food for their families, not cotton. Whether they owned slaves or not, however, most white Mississippians became both defensive and emotional on the subject of slavery. A slave insurrection scare in 1836 resulted in the hanging of a number of slaves and several white northerners suspected of being secret abolitionists.[13]

When cotton was king during the 1850s, Mississippi plantation owners—especially those in the old Natchez District, as well as the newly emerging Delta and Black Belt regions—became increasingly wealthy due to the great fertility of the soil and the high price of cotton on the international market. The severe wealth imbalances and the necessity of large-scale slave populations to sustain such income played a heavy role in both state politics and in the support for secession.[14]

Mississippi's population grew rapidly, reaching 791,000 in 1860. Cotton production grew from 43,000 bales in 1820 to over one million bales in 1860, as Mississippi became the leading cotton-producing state. The textile factories of Britain, France and New England demanded more and more cotton, and little was grown outside the United States. In Mississippi some modernizers spoke of diversification, and vegetable and livestock production did increase, but King Cotton prevailed. Cotton's ascendancy was seemingly justified in 1859, when Mississippi planters were scarcely touched by the financial panic in the North. They were concerned by inflation of the price of slaves but were in no real distress. Mississippi's per capita wealth was well above the U.S. average. Planters made very large profits, but they invested it on buying more cotton lands and more slaves, which pushed up prices even higher. They did not feel at all guilty about holding slaves. The threat of abolition troubled them, but they reassured themselves that if need be the cotton states could secede from the Union, form their own country, and expand to the south in Mexico and Cuba. Until late 1860 they never expected a war.[15]

The relatively low population of the state before the Civil War reflected the fact that much of the state was still wilderness and needed more settlers for development. Except for riverside settlements and plantations, 90% of the Mississippi Delta bottom lands was still undeveloped and covered mostly in mixed forest and swampland.[16]


At the time of the Civil War, the great majority of blacks were slaves living on plantations with 20 or more fellow slaves. Many had been transported to the Deep South in a forcible migration through the domestic slave trade from the Upper South.

The division of labor included an elite of house slaves, a middle group of overseers, drivers (gang leaders) and skilled craftsmen, and a "lower class" of unskilled field workers whose main job was hoeing and picking cotton. The owners hired white overseers to direct the work. Some slaves resisted by work slowdowns and by breaking tools and equipment. There were no slave revolts of any size, although whites often circulated fearful rumors that one was about to happen. Most of those who tried to escape were captured and returned, though a handful made it to northern states and eventual freedom. Most slaves endured the harsh routine of plantation life, though some with special skills attained a quasi-free status.

By 1820, 458 former slaves had been freed, but they were forbidden to have weapons and had to carry identification. In 1822 planters decided it was too awkward to have free blacks living near slaves and passed a state law forbidding emancipation except by special act of the legislature.[13][17] By 1860 only 1,000 of the 437,000 blacks in the state were free. [18] Most of these lived in wretched conditions near Natchez.


Mississippi was a stronghold of Jacksonian Democracy, which glorified the independent farmer; they even named their state capital in Jackson's honor. But dishonor was also rampant. Corruption and land speculation caused a severe blow to state credit in the years preceding the Civil War. Federally allocated funds were misused, tax collections embezzled, and finally, in 1853, two state-supported banks collapsed when their debts were repudiated. In the Second Party System (1820s to 1850s) Mississippi moved politically from a divided Whig and Democratic state to a one-party Democratic state bent on secession. Criticism from Northern abolitionists escalated after the Mexican War ended in 1848, causing an intense countercrusade that tried to identify and eliminate all dangerous abolitionist influences. White Mississippians became outspoken defenders of the slave system. An abortive secession attempt in 1850 was followed by a decade of political agitation during which the protection and expansion of slavery became their major goal. When Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with the goal seeking an eventual end of slavery, Mississippi followed South Carolina and seceded from the Union on January 9, 1861. Mississippi's U.S. senator Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederate States.

Civil War[edit]

See the main article Mississippi in the Civil War.

More than 80,000 Mississippians fought in the Civil War, and casualties were extremely heavy. Thousands of ex-slaves were enlisted in the Union Army.[19] Fear that white supremacy might be lost, among a plethora of other reasons, motivated men to join the Confederate Army. The amount of personal property owned, including slaves, increased the likelihood that a man would volunteer. However, men in Mississippi's river counties, regardless of their wealth or other characteristics, were less likely to join the army than were those living in the state's interior. The river made its neighbors especially vulnerable, and river-county residents apparently left their communities (and often the Confederacy) rather than face invasion.[20] The major military operations came in the Shiloh and Corinth campaigns and the siege of Vicksburg, from the spring of 1862 to the summer of 1863.[21] The most important was the Vicksburg Campaign, fought for control of the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. The fall of the city to General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, cut off the western states, and made the Confederate cause in the west hopeless.

At the Battle of Grand Gulf Admiral Porter led seven Union ironclads in an attack on the fortifications and batteries at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, with the intention of silencing the Confederate guns and then securing the area with troops of McClernand's XIII Corps who were on the accompanying transports and barges. The Confederates managed to win a hollow victory; the loss at Grand Gulf caused just a slight change in Grant's offensive.[22] Grant won the Battle of Port Gibson. Advancing towards Port Gibson, Grant's army ran into Confederate outposts after midnight. Union forces advanced on the Rodney Road and a plantation road at dawn, and was met by Confederates. Grant forced the Confederates to fall back to new defensive positions several times during the day but they could not stop the Union onslaught and left the field in the early evening. This defeat demonstrated that the Confederates were unable to defend the Mississippi River line and the Federals had secured their beachhead.[23] William Tecumseh Sherman's march from Vicksburg to Meridian was designed to destroy the railroad center of Meridian. The campaign was Sherman's first application of total war tactics, prefiguring his March to the Sea in Georgia in 1864. The Confederates had no better luck at the Battle of Raymond. On May 10, 1863, Pemberton sent troops from Jackson to Raymond, 20 miles (32 km) to the southwest. Brig. Gen. over-strength brigade, having endured a grueling march from Port Hudson, Louisiana, arrived in Raymond late on May 11 and the next day tried to ambush a small Union raiding party. The raiding party turned out to be Maj. Gen. John A. Logan's Division of the XVII Corps. Gregg tried to hold Fourteen Mile Creek and a sharp battle ensued for six hours, but the overwhelming Union force prevailed and the Confederates retreated, exposing the Southern Railroad of Mississippi to Union forces, thus severing the lifeline of Vicksburg.[24]

Battle of Brice's Crossroads

In April–May 1863 a major cavalry raid by Union colonel Benjamin H. Grierson raced through Mississippi and Louisiana, that destroying railroads, telegraph lines, and Confederate weapons and supplies. The raid also served as a diversion for Grant's moves toward Vicksburg.

A Union expedition commanded by General Samuel D. Sturgis was opposed by Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. They clashed at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads on 10 June 1864, as Forrest routed the Yankees in his greatest battlefield victory.


After each battle there was increased economic chaos and societal breakdown. State government during the course of the war was forced to move from Jackson to Enterprise, to Meridian and back to Jackson, to Meridian again and then to Columbus, Macon, and finally back to what was left of Jackson. The two wartime governors were fire-eater John J. Pettus, who carried the state into secession, whipped up the war spirit, began military and domestic mobilization, and prepared to finance the war.[25] His successor, General Charles Clark, elected in 1863, although facing a deteriorating military and economic situation, remained committed to continuing the fight regardless of the cost. The war presented both men with enormous challenges in providing an orderly, stable government for Mississippi.[26]

There were no slave insurrections, as plantations turned to food production. The Union presence made it possible for planters to sell their cotton to Union Treasury agents for high prices, a sort of treason the Confederates were unable to stop.[27]

Most whites supported the Confederacy, but there were holdouts. The two most vehemently anti-Confederate areas in were Jones County in the southeastern corner of the state, where the "Knight Company" originated, and Tishomingo in the northeastern corner. Among the most influential Mississippi Unionists was Presbyterian minister John Aughey, whose sermons and book The Iron Furnace or Slavery and Secession (1863) became hallmarks of the anti-secessionist cause in the state.[28]

The war shattered the lives of all classes, high and low. Upper class ladies replaced balls and parties with bandage-rolling sessions and fund-raising efforts. But soon enough they found their world shattering as they lost brothers, sons and husbands to battlefield deaths and disease, lost their incomes and luxuries and instead had to deal with chronic shortages and poor ersatz substitutes for common items. They took on unexpected responsibilities, including the chores always left to slaves; they coped by focusing on survival. They maintained their family honor by upholding Confederate patriotism to the bitter end, and after the war became the champions of the "Los Cause." Less privileged white women were less wedded to honor and patriotism and in even more trouble as they immediately were forced to do double and triple work with the men gone; many became refugees in camps or fled to Union lines.[29]

Black women and children had an especially hard time as the plantation regime collapsed and the only option was to find a refugee camp operated by the Union Army. Tens of thousands of freedmen died from cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria, dysentery, pneumonia, phthisis, convulsions, and other fevers. Death rates were especially high in informal refugee camps, and somewhat lower in the better-organized camps funt by the Freedmen's Bureau of the U.S. Army[30]


After the defeat of the Confederacy, President Andrew Johnson appointed a temporary government under Judge William Lewis Sharkey. It repealed secession and wrote new Black Codes defining and limiting the civil rights of the African American freedmen as a sort of third-class status without citizenship or voting rights. The Black Codes never took effect, however, since the legal affairs of the freedmen came under the control of sympathetic Freedmen's Bureau representatives. Most of them were former Army officers from the North. Many stayed in the state and became political and business leaders (scornfully known as "carpetbaggers"). The Black Dodes outraged northern opinion and apparently were never put into effect in any state. The Black Codes established by the provisional Mississippi legislature in 1866 demonstrate how white Mississippians, following the Civil War, remained committed to circumscribing the legal, civil, political, and social rights of the freed people or ex-slaves.

Congress responded in September 1865 by refusing to seat the newly elected delegation. In 1867 it put Mississippi under U.S. Army rule as part of Reconstruction until the legal status of ex-Confederates and freedmen could be worked out. The military governor general, Edward O.C. Ord (commander of the Mississippi/Arkansas District) received the task of registering the state's electorate so a new state constitution could be written. The state's voters rejected the proposal for a new state constitution, and as a result Mississippi remained under martial law. Adelbert Ames, under direction from the U.S. Congress, deposed the civil government, enrolled black men as voters, and temporarily prohibited a 1000 or so former Confederate leaders to vote or hold office.[31]

The 1868 constitution had major elements that lasted for 22 years. The convention was the first political organization to include African American representatives, who numbered 17 among the 100 members. Although 32 counties had Negro majorities, they elected whites as well as Negroes to represent them. The convention adopted universal male suffrage; created the framework for the state's first public school system; forbade race distinctions in the possession and inheritance of property; and prohibited limiting of civil rights in travel; allowed the governor to serve a four-year term instead of two years; provided the governor with the power to appoint judges; required legislative reapportionment; and repudiated secession. Since 17 of the 100 delegates were blacks, the body was called the Black and Tan convention by its enemies. Mississippi was readmitted to the Union on Jan. 11, 1870 and to Congress on Feb. 23, 1870.[32]

Black Mississippians, participating in the political process for the first time ever, formed a coalition with some locals whites (called "Scalawags") and newly arrived Northerners (called "Carpetbaggers") in a Republican party that controlled the state. Most of its votes came from blacks, several of whom held important state offices. A. K. Davis served as lieutenant governor, Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce were elected by the legislature to the U.S. Senate, and John R. Lynch served as a congressman. The Republican regime faced the determined opposition of the "unreconstructed" white population. Blacks who attempted to exercise their new rights were terrorized by such groups as the Ku Klux Klan.

The planter James Lusk Alcorn, a Confederate general, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1865 but, like other Southerners who had been loyal to the Confederacy, was not allowed to take a seat. He supported suffrage for freedmen and endorsed the Fourteenth Amendment, as required by the Republicans in Congress. Alcorn became the leader of the scalawags, who comprised about a third of the Republican party in the state, in coalition with carpetbaggers and freedmen.

Alcorn was elected as governor in 1869 and served from 1870 to 1871. As a modernizer, he appointed many like-minded former Whigs, even if they had become Democrats. He strongly supported education, including segregated public schools, and a new college for freedmen, now known as Alcorn State University. He maneuvered to make his ally Hiram Revels its president. Radical Republicans opposed Alcorn as they were angry about his patronage policy. One complained that Alcorn's policy was to see "the old civilization of the South modernized" rather than lead a total political, social and economic revolution.[33]

Alcorn resigned the governorship to become a U.S. Senator (1871–1877), replacing his ally Hiram Revels, the first African-American US senator. Senator Alcorn urged the removal of the political disabilities of white southerners and rejected Radical Republican proposals to enforce social equality by Federal legislation. Further, he denounced the Federal cotton tax as robbery, and defended separate schools for both races in Mississippi. Although a former slaveholder, he characterized slavery as "a cancer upon the body of the Nation" and expressed gratification which he felt over its destruction.[34]

In 1870, former military governor Adelbert Ames was elected by the legislature (as was the process at the time) to the U.S. Senate. Ames and Alcorn battled for control of the Republican party in Mississippi; their struggle ripped apart the Republican party. In 1873 they both sought a decision by running for governor. Ames was supported by the Radicals and most African Americans, while Alcorn won the votes of conservative whites and most of the scalawags. Ames won by a vote of 69,870 to 50,490. A riot broke out in Vicksburg in December 1873, which resulted in white Democratic reprisals against many Republican supporters, the vast majority of them black.

There was factionalism within the Democratic Party between the Regulars and New Departures, but as the state election of 1875 approached, the Democrats united and worked on the "Mississippi Plan," to organize whites to defeat the black Republicans. Armed attacks by the Red Shirts, White League and the Ku Klux Klan on Republican activists proliferated, as in the September 1875 "Clinton Riot," and Governor Ames appealed to the federal government for armed assistance, which was refused. That November, Democrats gained firm control of both houses of the legislature. Ames requested the intervention of the U.S. Congress since the election had been aubject to voter intimidation and fraud. The state legislature, convening in 1876, drew up articles of impeachment against him and all statewide officials. He resigned and fled the state, "marking the end of Republican Reconstruction in Mississippi."[35][36]

Gilded age: 1877-1900[edit]

Not much was gold plated in Mississippi, but there was steady economic and social progress, despite the low prices for cotton. Politically the state was controlled by the conservative whites called "Bourbon Democrats" by their critics. The Bourbons represented the planters, landowners and merchants. They use violence, intimidation, and coercion to suppress black voting at the polls. The Bourbons controlled the Democratic party conventions, and thus state government.[37]

The state remained rural, but the railroad system, which had been destroyed in the war, was rebuilt; a few more towns developed, as well as small-scale industry, notably the lumber industry in the Piney Woods region of the state. Most farmers continued to grow cotton. The "crop-lien system involved local merchants who lent money for food and supplies all year, and then split the cotton crop to pay the debts and perhaps leave a little cash left over for the farmer—or often leave him further in debt to the merchants.[38]

In 1878 the worst yellow fever epidemic Mississippi had seen ravaged the state. The disease, sometimes known as 'Yellow Jack,' and 'Bronze John,' devastated Mississippi socially and economically. Entire families were wiped out, while others fled their homes in panic for the presumed safety of other parts of the state. Quarantine regulations, passed to prevent the spread of the disease, brought trade to a stop. Some local economies never recovered. Beechland, near Vicksburg, became a ghost town because of the epidemic. By the end of the year, 3,227 people had died from the disease.[39]

The small farmers resented the Bourbon control of politics and the credit lien system that seemed to keep them forever in debts. Efforts to fight the system politically went nowhere. The Populist movement failed to attract the large following in Mississippi that it did in Alabama, Georgia and other Southern states. Mississippi did put forward a few articulate Populist spokesmen, such as newspaper editor Frank Burkitt, but poor farmers, white and black, refused to follow the leadership of the Farmers' Alliance. Few farmers were willing to support the subtreasury plan, the Alliance plan of aiding farmers by providing low-cost federal loans secured by crops. The Democratic Party machine, the increasing activism of the National Grange, and effective disfranchisement of most black voters and many poor whites by inclusion of a poll tax in the new state constitution of 1890[40] meant the failure of Mississippi populism. By the birth of the People's Party in 1892, Mississippi populism was too weak to play a major role.[41]

Whitecapping, a violent, anti-Semitic, anti-Negro dirt farmer movement, arose in the Piney Woods region of southern Mississippi in response to low prices, rising costs, and increasing tenancy brought about by the crop lien system. Whitecaps resented Negro tenancy on lands acquired by merchants –some of them Jewish—through foreclosures. Whitecap Clubs, resembling fraternal and military organizations, attempted to intimidate Negro laborers and landowners, and to prevent mercantile land acquisition. Whitecaps came from the rural poor; their leaders from a higher social strata.[42]

Blacks: 1877-1940[edit]

Mississippi has been thought to typify the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow.

But, it had an enormous frontier of undeveloped land in the backcountry of the Mississippi Delta. Tens of thousands of black and white migrants came to the Delta seeking the chance to buy and work land, cut timber and make lives for themselves and their families. Because the Mississippi Delta contained so much fertile bottomland which had not been farmed, away from the river settlements, African Americans achieved unusually high rates of land ownership from 1870 to 1900. Two-thirds of the independent farmers in the Delta were black.

As the Panic of 1893 brought another depression and very low cotton prices, many farmers had to sell their land to pay off debts and become sharecroppers.[43] The sharecropping system, as Cresswell (2006) shows, functioned as a compromise between white landowners' desire for a reliable supply of labor and black workers' refusal to work in gangs.

In 1890 the state adopted a new constitution that imposed a poll tax of $2 a year that the great majority of blacks and poor whites could not pay; they were effectively excluded from the political process. These requirements, with additions in legislation of 1892, resulted in a 90% reduction in the number of blacks who voted. In every county a handful of prominent black ministers and local leaders were allowed to vote.[44]

As only voters could serve on juries, disfranchisement meant blacks could not serve on juries, and lost all chance at local and state offices, as well as representation in Congress. When these provisions survived a Supreme Court challenge in 1898 in Williams v. Mississippi, other southern state legislatures rapidly incorporated them into new constitutions or amendments, effectively extending disfranchisement to every southern state. In 1900 the population of Mississippi was nearly 59% African American, but they were virtually excluded from public life.

The Jim Crow system became total after 1900, with disfranchisement, coupled with increasingly restrictive racial segregation laws, and increased lynchings. Economic disasters always lurked, such as failure of the cotton crop due to boll weevil infestation, and successive severe flooding in 1912 and 1913. By 1920, the third generation after freedom, most African Americans in the state were landless sharecroppers or laborers facing inescapable poverty.[43]

Racial segregation began in Mississippi following the Civil War, with a handful of state laws requiring separate facilities for black and white school children in addition to statutes requiring three restroom facilities in public buildings: one for white males, one for white females, and one for black males and females. Otherwise, segregation arose by local custom more than it did by state or municipal law. Since segregation was a customary practice, historians consider it to be one that mandated social distance between whites and blacks rather than physical distance. In most Mississippi communities from the late 1800s until the 1970s, blacks and whites lived in relative proximity to one another, and whites depended on the labor of blacks either as agricultural or domestic workers. White and black children often played together until they reached puberty, at which time parents began instructing their children about the racial status quo.

White children learned that they were superior to their black counterparts while black children learned the vacillating and arbitrary customs of Jim Crow, which often differed from community to community. By 1900, racial segregation had become more rigid and the customary nature of the practice made it difficult for African Americans to challenge it legally. Jim Crow became the mainstay of the Mississippi social order until it ended by virtue of federal law in 1964 and local customs began to break down by 1970.[45][46]

Tens of thousands of African Americans left Mississippi by train, foot, or boat to migrate north starting in the 1880s; migration reached its pinnacle during World War I. In the Great Migration, they went north to leave a society that had been steadily closing off opportunity.[47] Another wave of migration came in the 1940s and 1950s. Almost half a million people, three-quarters of them black, left Mississippi in the second migration. Many sought jobs in the burgeoning wartime defense industry on the West Coast.


Following Reconstruction, the Democrat-dominated state legislature cut back on funding for public schools. For decades public school funding was poor for whites and very poor for blacks. However, northern philanthropy helped a great deal. The Anna T. Jeanes Foundation, begun in 1907 and also known as the Negro Rural School Fund, aimed to provide rudimentary education for rural Southern blacks. Jeanes supervisors, all experienced teachers, personally implemented physical and academic improvements in rural schools. Early Jeanes supervisors brought vocational education into their classrooms, based on the Hampton and Tuskegee Institute models promoted by Booker T. Washington. By the 1940s, the Jeanes program changed its emphasis from industrial education to academic subjects. Other major northern foundations also helped, especially the General Education Board (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rosenwald Fund, which supported construction of more than 5,000 schools in southern rural areas. Northern churches supported denominational colleges.[48]


Mississippi became a center of rich, quintessentially American music traditions: gospel music, jazz music, blues, and rock and roll, all were invented, promulgated, or developed largely by Mississippi musicians.

John Lomax and his son Alan recorded some of the Delta's rich musical tradition for the Library of Congress. They sought out blues songs and field chants at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. In 1941, Alan Lomax recorded Muddy Waters, then 28 years old, at Stovall's Plantation. Among others, major artists Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Muddy Waters were born and raised on Mississippi plantations.

Progressive Era[edit]

By 1900, with no paved highways, a one-party government, regular epidemics of contagious diseases, endemic hookworm, routine lynchings, local affairs controlled by courthouse rings, widespread illiteracy, and few assets besides prime cotton land, Mississippi failed to attract much outside investment or European immigration.[49]

The Progressive Era reached Mississippi. Governor Theodore Bilbo (1916–20) had the most successful administration of all the governors who served between 1877 and 1917, putting state finances in order and supporting such Progressive measures as passing a compulsory school attendance law, founding a new charity hospital, and establishing a board of bank examiners. However, Bilbo was also an avowed racist who openly defended segregation and was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.[50]

A renewed surge of patriotism during World War I swept away most of the remaining bitterness from the Civil War and helped end Mississippi's physical and psychological isolation.[citation needed]

1920s and 1930s[edit]

Mississippians had more prosperity in the 1920s than they had known for two generations, although the state was still poor and rural by national standards. The people nevertheless had a slice of the American Dream. Ownby (1999), in his in-depth study of the state, identifies four American dreams that the new consumer culture addressed. The first was the "Dream of Abundance," offering a cornucopia of material goods to all Americans, making them proud to be the richest society on earth. The second was the "Dream of a Democracy of Goods," whereby everyone had access to the same products regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class, thereby challenging the aristocratic norms of the rest of the world, whereby only the rich or well-connected are granted access to luxury. The "Dream of Freedom of Choice," with its ever expanding variety of goods, allowed people to fashion their own particular style. Finally, the "Dream of Novelty," in which ever-changing fashions, new models, and unexpected new products broadened the consumer experience and challenged the conservatism of traditional society and culture, and even politics. Ownby acknowledges that the dreams of the new consumer culture radiated from the major cities, but notes that they quickly penetrated the most rural and most isolated areas, such as rural Mississippi. With the arrival of the Model T car after 1910, many consumers in rural America were no longer locked into local general stores with their limited merchandise and high prices, and to comparison shop and in towns and cities. Ownby demonstrates that poor black Mississippians shared in the new consumer culture inside Mississippi. He attributes some of their desire to move to ambition, and acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of blacks moved to Memphis or Chicago in the Great Migration.[51] Other historian have attributed their decisions to poor schools, a high rate of violence, and political disfranchisement in Mississippi.

Not all Mississippi was doing well. In the Pearl River country in the south central region, the 1920s was a decade of persistent poverty and new interest in anti-modernist politics and culture. The timber companies that had employed up to half of all workers were running short of timber, so payrolls dwindled. Farming was hard-scrabble. Governor Theodore G. Bilbo, a native of the region, won widespread support among the poor white farmers and loggers with his attacks on the elites, the big cities, and the blacks. Dry laws were but one aspect of a pervasive prohibitionism that included laws against business or recreation on Sunday, as well as attacks on Catholics and immigrants. Baptist and some other denominations embraced fundamentalism and rejected newfangled liberal ideas such as evolution along with the Social Gospel.[52]


When the automobile arrived about 1910, the state had poorly constructed dirt roads used for wagon traffic, and an outdated system of taxation. Road improvement continued to be a local affair controlled by county supervisors and achieved few positive results. The Lindsey Wagon Company of Laurel built the famous Lindsey wagon after 1899. It was a heavy-duty eight-wheel wagon used to haul logs, timber, and other bulky and heavy material. Wagon production reached a peak in the 1920s, then declined. Improved road finally made it possible to use trucks built in Detroit. The Great Depression after 1929 reduced the need for new wagons.[53]

After 1928, the pressure to build roads motivated politicians to talk up the cause. They enacted massive bond issues, create excise taxes, and centralize control to create a genuine state highway system, with a system of main highways designed by engineers, using a common system of signage and nomenclature.[54]

World War II[edit]

The war years brought prosperity as cotton prices soared and new war installations paid high wages. Many blacks headed to northern cities, and white farmers often headed to southern factory towns. Young men, white and black, were equally subject to the draft, but farmers were often exempt on occupational grounds. The World War II era marked a transition from labor-intensive agriculture to mechanized farming in the Delta region of Mississippi. Federal farm payments and improvements in mechanical cotton pickers made modernization economically possible by 1940, but most planters feared loss of racial and social control and simply shifted from sharecropping to wage labor. As workers left the farm for military service or defense jobs, farm wages rose. By 1944, wages had tripled. In 1945 the newly established Delta War Wage Board provided planters temporary relief by setting a maximum wage for farm workers, but President Harry S. Truman lifted wartime economic controls in 1946.

Beginning in the 1930s, the ravages of the boll weevil and federal crop restrictions and conservation programs encouraged many farmers to turn from cotton farming to growing other crops, such as soybeans; to sowing grasses for livestock; and to planting trees for timber. Agricultural productivity increased, and as an added bonus the soils were improved by crop rotation, strip planting, terracing, contour plowing, and the use of improved fertilizers, insecticides, and seeds. After 1945, farm mechanization advanced rapidly, especially in the cotton belt, and small farms were consolidated, as small farmers who could not afford the new machinery and sharecroppers left the land. Planters rapidly mechanized. It now took only a few operators of cotton picking machines to do the work of hundreds. There was no other farm work for the sharecroppers, so the entire sharecropping system collapsed as the croppers moved to the cities, often in the North. By 1950 whites were a majority of the population, statewide and in every region outside the Delta.[55]

before 1945, times were good when the price of cotton was above 20 cents


Mississippi was a center of the American Civil Rights Movement and especially captured the national stage in 1963 and 1964. Few white leaders in the state supported the effort to secure voting and exercise of other civil rights for African Americans.

According to the 1960 census, the state had a population of 2,178,141, of which 915,743, or 42% of the residents, were black.[56] Their long disfranchisement meant that white state legislators had consistently underfunded segregated schools and services for African Americans, and passed laws that worked against their interests. African Americans had no representation in local governments, juries or law enforcement.

The Ole Miss riot of 1962 erupted as a white mob attacked 500 United States marshals deployed by President John F. Kennedy to ensure the safety of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Segregationist rioters assaulted the marshals with bricks, bottles, and gunfire before the marshals responded with tear gas. The fighting which ensued claimed the lives of two men and seriously injured dozens more, and polarized race relations and politics, as whites assumed they were under attack from the federal government.[57]

In September 1964, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a secretive and extralegal counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE. This covert action program sought to expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize Ku Klux Klan groups in Mississippi whose violent vigilante activities alarmed the national government. The program succeeded in creating an atmosphere of paranoia that turned many Klan members against each other. The effect on Klan groups between 1964 and 1971 helped destroy many of them. Some members of the Klan groups subsequently joined other white supremacist organizations, including Christian Identity.[58]

Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964[edit]

Main article: Freedom Summer

Meanwhile black activists had been increasing their local work throughout the South. In Mississippi in 1962, several activists formed the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), to coordinate activities in voter registration and education of civil rights groups in Mississippi: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In 1963 COFO organized a Freedom Vote in Mississippi to demonstrate the desire of black Mississippians to vote. They had been disfranchised since statutory and constitutional changes in 1890 and 1892. More than 80,000 people quickly registered and voted in mock elections which pitted candidates from the "Freedom Party" against the official state Democratic Party candidates.[59]

In the summer of 1964, the COFO brought more than one hundred college students, many from outside the state, to Mississippi to join with local activists to register voters, teach in "Freedom Schools" and organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Many white residents deeply resented the outsiders and attempts to change their society. The work was dangerous. Activists were threatened.

On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers, James Chaney, a young black Mississippian and plasterer's apprentice; and two Jewish volunteers from New York, Andrew Goodman, a Queens College student; and Michael Schwerner, a social worker, were murdered by members of the Klan, some of them members of the Neshoba County sheriff's department. With the national uproar caused by their disappearance, President Johnson forced J. Edgar Hoover to have the FBI to investigate.

The FBI found the bodies of the civil rights workers on August 4 in an earthen dam outside Philadelphia, Mississippi. During its investigation, the FBI also discovered the bodies of several other Mississippi blacks whose murders and disappearances over the past several years had not gained attention outside their local communities.

The case of the young murdered activists captured national attention. President Johnson used the outrage over their deaths and his formidable political skills to bring about passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed July 2. It banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment and education. It also had a section about voting, but voting protection was addressed more substantially by passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 1964[edit]

In 1964, civil rights organizers launched the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the all-white slate from the state party, based as it was on disfranchisement of blacks. When Mississippi voting registrars refused to recognize their candidates, the MFDP held its own primary. They selected Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, and Victoria Gray to run for Congress, and a slate of delegates to represent Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

The presence of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was inconvenient for national leaders. Democratic Party organizers had planned a triumphant celebration of the Johnson Administration’s achievements in civil rights, rather than a fight over racism within the party. Johnson was also worried about inroads that Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was making in what had been the Democratic stronghold of the "Solid South", as well as the support which Independent candidate George Wallace had gained in the North during the Democratic primaries. The all-white delegations from other Southern states threatened to walk out if the official slate from Mississippi was not seated.

Johnson could not prevent the MFDP from taking its case to the Credentials Committee. There Fannie Lou Hamer testified eloquently about the beatings which she and others endured, and the threats they faced, all for trying to register to vote and exercise their constitutional rights. Turning to the television cameras, Hamer asked, "Is this America?"

Johnson offered the MFDP a "compromise" under which it would receive two non-voting, at-large seats, while the white delegation sent by the official Democratic Party would retain its seats. The MFDP angrily rejected the compromise. The MFDP kept up its agitation within the convention, even after it was denied official recognition. The 1964 convention disillusioned many within the MFDP and the Civil Rights Movement, but it did not destroy the MFDP. The new party invited Malcolm X, head of the Black Muslims, to speak at its founding convention and issued a statement opposing the war in Vietnam.

Armed self-defense became an integral part of the Southern planning strategy of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) after 1964. The ideological shift on the question of nonviolence within CORE and SNCC occurred primarily because of the effect of white violence in Mississippi, such as the murders of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman in Neshoba County. The shift marked the beginning of the end of nonviolence as the philosophy and method of the Southern freedom movement.

Southern blacks had a tradition of armed resistance to white violence that had become more organized and intense as the struggle accelerated and federal protection failed to appear. Moreover, it was the armed protection by local blacks and the haven provided by Mississippi's black farming communities that allowed SNCC and CORE to operate effectively in the state.[60]

After 1966 the blacks moved into the Democratic party, where they organized politically to vote, to nominate candidates for office, and win their elections. They struggled to get candidates elected to office, particularly in the Delta, where they were a majority of the population and had long been oppressed by white officials.

National image[edit]

During the 1960s, the vocal opposition of many politicians and officials, the use of tax dollars to support the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, which spied on citizens and helped achieve economic boycotts of civil rights activists; and the violent tactics of Ku Klux Klan members and sympathizers gave Mississippi a reputation as a reactionary state.[61] The state was the last to repeal prohibition and to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, in 1966 and 2013, respectively.[62]

As in other states of the former Confederacy since the late 1960s, the Republican Party has won increasing support from white conservatives, who formerly had voted Democratic since before the Civil War. In Mississippi, the three majority-white congressional districts support Republican candidates. The majority-black 2nd congressional district has supported Democratic candidates since the national party's support for the civil rights movement and President Lyndon B. Johnson's gaining passage of legislation to this end in the mid-1960s. As was noted by reporter R.L. Nave of the Jackson Free Press in 2012 when the Republicans took control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, "of course, the Republican Party of the 1880s was very different from the GOP that now rules the state."[63]

Since 2000[edit]

Mississippi in recent years has been noted for its political conservatism, improved civil rights record, and increasing industrialization. In addition, a decision in 1990 to permit riverboat gambling has led to economic gains for the state. However, the state lost an estimated $500,000 per day in tax revenue was lost following Hurricane Katrina's severe damage to several riverboat casinos in August 2005.

Gambling towns in Mississippi include Gulfport and Biloxi on the Gulf Coast; Vicksburg, Tunica Resorts, and Greenville on the Mississippi River; and the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi in the interior. Prior to Katrina, Mississippi was the second-largest gambling state in the Union in terms of its revenues, after Nevada and ahead of New Jersey.


August 17, 1969 - Category 5 Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi coast, killing 248 people and causing US$1.5 billion in damage.

September 12, 1979 - Hurricane Frederic

September 2, 1985 - Hurricane Elena

September 28, 1998 - Hurricane Georges

August 29, 2005 - Hurricane Katrina caused the greatest destruction across the entire 90 miles (140 km) of Mississippi Gulf coast from Louisiana to Alabama.


Mississippi has been noted for its authors, including Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner, as well as William Alexander Percy, Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Stark Young, Eudora Welty and Anne Moody.

See also[edit]



Specialized studies[edit]

Indians and archaeology[edit]

Pre 1920[edit]

Since 1920[edit]

Local and regional histories[edit]


Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]


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  32. ^ W.E.B. DuBois,Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. (1935) , p.437
  33. ^ Quoted in Eric Foner, Reconstruction (1988), p 298.
  34. ^ Congressional Globe, 42 Cong., 2 Sess., pp. 246-47, 2730-33, 3424.
  35. ^ Harris, William C. The Day of the Carpetbagger. p. xi. 
  36. ^ Ellem (1992)
  37. ^ Halsell (1945)
  38. ^ Thomas D. Clark, "The Furnishing and Supply System in Southern Agriculture since 1865," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Feb., 1946), pp. 24-44 in JSTOR
  39. ^ Deanne Stephens Nuwer, "The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic along the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Gulf South Historical Review 1999 14(2): 51-73
  40. ^ Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (2000), ch 4.
  41. ^ Thomas Adams Upchurch, "Why Populism Failed in Mississippi," Journal of Mississippi History 2003 65(3): 249-276
  42. ^ William F. Holmes, "Whitecapping in Mississippi: Agrarian Violence in the Populist Era", Mid America; 1973 55(2): 134-148; Holmes,“Whitecapping: Agrarian Violence in Mississippi, 1902–1906.” Journal of Southern History. 35 (1969): 165 – 185. In JSTOR
  43. ^ a b John C. Willis, Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War, University of Virginia Press, 2000
  44. ^ Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (2000), ch 4.
  45. ^ McMillen, Neil. Dark Journey. pp. 1–17. 
  46. ^ Ritterhouse, Jennifer (2006). Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Children Learned Race. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 2–6. ISBN 0807856843. 
  47. ^ Neil McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow (1989)
  48. ^ Bonnie J. Krause, "The Jeanes Supervisor: Agent of Change in Mississippi's African American Education," Journal of Mississippi History 2003 65(2): 127-145
  49. ^ Cresswell, Rednecks, Redeemers, and Race: Mississippi after Reconstruction, 1877-1917 (2006)
  50. ^ Cresswell (2006) pp. 212—13
  51. ^ Ted Ownby, American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture 1830-1998 (University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
  52. ^ John Hawkins Napier, III, "The Roaring Twenties on Pearl River: Poverty, Populism, and Prohibition," Gulf Coast Historical Review, 1996, Vol. 12 Issue 1, pp 42-59
  53. ^ John Carroll Eudy, "A Mississippi Log Wagon," Journal of Mississippi History, June1968, Vol. 30 Issue 2, pp 143-150
  54. ^ Corey T. Lesseig, "'Out Of The Mud': The Good Roads Crusade and Social Change in Twentieth-Century Mississippi," Journal of Mississippi History, March 1998, Vol. 60 Issue 1, pp 50-72
  55. ^ Chester M. Morgan, "At the Crossroads: World War II, Delta Agriculture, and Modernization in Mississippi," Journal of Mississippi History 1995 57(4): 353-371; Cosby (1992)
  56. ^ Historical Census Browser, 1960 Census, Accessed 13 Mar 2008
  57. ^ Charles W. Eagles "'The Fight for Men's Minds': The Aftermath of the Ole Miss Riot of 1962," Journal of Mississippi History Spring 2009, Vol. 71 Issue 1, pp 1-53
  58. ^ John Drabble, "The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE, and the Decline of the Ku Klux Klan Organizations in Mississippi, 1964-1971," Journal of Mississippi History 2004 66(4): 353-401
  59. ^ Council of Federated Organizations, accessed 13 Mar 2008
  60. ^ Akinyele O. Umoja, "1964: the Beginning of the End of Nonviolence in the Mississippi Freedom Movement," Radical History Review 2003 (85): 201-226
  61. ^ http://www.southernspaces.org/2006/mississippi-metaphor-state-region-and-nation-historical-imagination
  62. ^ http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57569880/after-148-years-mississippi-finally-ratifies-13th-amendment-which-banned-slavery/
  63. ^ R. L. Nave , "2012 Legislative Session Ends", Jackson Free Press, 9 May 2012