History of Mississippi
It is believed that the region of Mississippi was inhabited by Paleo-Indians since approximately 10,000 B.C. The region is still doted by the remnants of the mound building Mississippian culture, one of the oldest developed civilizations that inhabited the region. Before the Europeans came to the region, it was mostly inhabited by the people of Biloxi, Yazoo, Natchez, Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. The first recorded European expedition reached this region in 1540 and was led by Hernando de Soto. The first settlement in the territory of today’s Mississippi known as Old Biloxi or Fort Maurepas was established in 1699 by the French. It was located in the vicinity of ocean Springs. Some 17 years later, in 1716, French established another settlement in the region, Fort Rosalie, which slowly grew and prospered as a trading post, and ultimately developed into the today’s city of Natchez. At that the time the French referred to this region as ‘New Louisiana’.
Over the following years the control over the region has shifted between the French, British and Spanish governments. While Spain and France held the region, it had a relatively large population of free people of color, who were mostly descendants of enslaved women and European settlers. This was a common occurrence, as the most people coming to the region from Europe were men. The region came under British control in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris that followed the end of the Seven Year’s War or, as it is also known, the French and Indian War.
In 1798, after the American Revolution, the region, now no longer controlled by the British but instead officially a part of America, was organized into the Mississippi Territory. The new territory got larger with the purchase of Native American land that was needed to accommodate all of the new settlers. Most of the people coming into the region were from the south and came with slaves.
Mississippi was admitted into the Union as the 20th state in 1817. It already had numerous plantations, mostly in the Mississippi Delta, both because of the fact that the land was quite fertile in that area, and because of the transportation advantages that the proximity of the river offered. The river and the steamboats that were traversing it are also what caused this area to develop faster than the rest of the state. The first larger cities in the state cropped up in this region.
Cotton plantations in the Delta made plantation owners rich in no time, the land was extremely fertile, the slave labor minimized their expenses and the price of cotton was rather high on the international market. The increase in their wealth prompted the expansion of the plantations and the increase of the people brought in as slave labor. By the second half of the 19th century the state’s population numbered 791,305 inhabitants, out of which 55% or 436,631 people were slaves. At that time there were fewer than a thousand free black people in the state. Most of the state’s population was concentrated in the Delta. Mississippi seceded from the Union in 1861.
In 1868 a constitutional convention was organized that not only set up some of the elements of the state’s constitution that will remain active for 20 years, but that also included freedmen representatives and that restored voting rights to men of color as well as to poor white people. The convention has also set up a public school system, and did away with the property laws that discriminated against African American people. In 1870, the state was restored to the Union.
After the Civil War ended, the state became rather interesting to new settlers. Large portions of it were still uninhabited, and people were coming to Mississippi knowing that they could clear forested areas, and in time, claim the cleared land for themselves. Freedmen took part in these activities, and Mississippi has granted land ownership to a high percentage of former slaves. It is estimated that in 1890’s two thirds of the farms in the state belonged to the freedmen. However, cotton prices were falling, and most of the new land owners couldn’t keep up with the costs of maintaining their land, and at one point they were forced to sell it.
A new state constitution, which was drafted in 1890, once again disenfranchised African Americans and poor white people. It is estimated that somewhere around 50,000 white and 100,000 black people were denied the right to vote under the provisions of the new constitution. The living conditions were getting unbearably difficult for the African Americans in the state, lynchings were becoming more frequent, Jim Crow laws were passed and the cotton fields were suffering under the boll weevil. Most of the African Americans in the state have lost their land by 1910, and a decade later, most of them were working for low wages. By 1913, all of these factors finally caused the Great Migration. Tens of thousands of African Americans were moving to the northern cities of New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis in search of industrial jobs, voting rights, education for their children, a friendlier environment, and generally, better living conditions.
The first wave of migrations was over by 1940, when the second wave started and lasted till 1970s. Somewhere around half a million people have left the state during the second wave, and out of those half million, it is estimated that 75% were African Americans. Northern cities weren’t the only option anymore, as the defense industry in California was developing and offered decent paying jobs to the newcomers.
The state constitution that was active since 1890 has prevented African Americans from voting all the way up to 1960, even though 42% of the Mississippi’s population consisted of African Americans. This is partially why, during the Civil Rights Movement, the state became an important center of activity when it came to registering and educating black voters. Still, with the violent Ku Klux Klan activities, the White Citizens Councils and the forming of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, situation in the state was far from ideal for African Americans.
Mississippi repealed the prohibition law in 1966, and it was the last state to do so. The ban on interracial marriages was repealed in 1987, while poll taxes were repealed in 1989.
In 2010 the gross state product of Mississippi amounted to $98 billion. In 2006, per capita income was $26,908, which is the lowest per capita income in the nation, but this is somewhat offset by the fact that the Mississippi is also the state with the lowest cost of living in the United States.
Because of the cotton plantations, Mississippi was the 5th wealthiest state in the US before the Civil War. The fact that the state’s residents were so heavily focused on cotton production resulted in the railroads, roads and public school system in the state being largely ignored and underdeveloped for a long time. This is also why the industrialization of Mississippi came rather late, in the second half of the 20th century. The Civil War has significantly decreased the state’s wealth, not only because of the costs of the war itself and the fact that many of the people working on the plantations died during the war, but also because before the war slaves were considered property. All of this, combined with frequent flooding and the passing of laws that halted industrial development has made Mississippi into one of the poorest states in the nation.
One of the largest rejuvenations of the state’s economic potential came in 1990, when gambling was made legal in certain parts of the state. There are a number of gambling towns in the state, including Natchez, Vicksburg, Greenville and Tunica, along the Mississippi River, as well as Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis on the gulf Coast. Mississippi was actually the 2nd largest gambling state in the nation, ahead of New Jersey and only after Nevada, before the devastating Hurricane Katrina. It is estimated that the hurricane has cost the state some $500,000 in tax revenues every day in 2005. In the same year, a new bill was passed that allowed for building casinos on land in Harrison and Hancock counties.
The state’s unemployment rate in 2010 was 10.9%. Cotton is still being produced in the state, either with the help of mechanization, or cheap labor. Federal government is giving subsidies to cotton producers, but most of that money is going to larger plantations, while small farmers are generally not seeing too much profit from their work.
The personal income tax in the state comes in one of three brackets, ranging from 5% to 3%. Mississippi’s sales tax is fixed at 7%. Tupelo has a local sales tax addition of 2.5%. There are five distinct classes of taxable property in the state.
Mississippi Geography and Climate
Mississippi has Arkansas and Louisiana on the west, Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana on the south, Alabama on the east and Tennessee on the north. Apart from the Mississippi River, there are a number of other major rivers in the state, including the Tombigbee River, the Pascagoula River, the Yazoo River, the Pearl River and the Big Black River. The state also has a number of larger lakes, such as Grenada Lake, which is the largest lake in the state, Sardis Lake, Arkabutla Lake and Ross Barnett Reservoir.
The entirety of the state consists of lowlands, with the highest point in the state, Woodall Mountain, located in the Cumberland Mountains, reaching only 806 feet of altitude. The point with the lowest elevation is the Gulf Coast at the sea level. This mainly comes from the fact that the state is located in the East Gulf Coastal Plain, which mostly consists of low, rolling hills, such as the North Central Hills and the Pine Hills in the south. The northeastern part of the state is a part of the Alabama Black Belt, a region with very fertile, black soil. The soil in the western regions of the state is mostly of the yellow-brown loess type.
The state’s coast is marked by the bays at Pascagoula, Biloxi and by the Bay St. Louis, and there is a number of islands in the state’s vicinity, including the Cat island, the Round Island, the Deer Island, East and West Ship Islands, Horn Island and Petit Bois Island. Mississippi Delta, which is a portion of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, covers a large section of the northwestern Mississippi. The land in the Delta is very fertile, thanks to the often flooding of the region and the sediments that remain after the water withdraws.
There are a number of areas protected by the National Park Service, including Vicksburg National Military Park and Cemetery in Vicksburg, Tupelo National Battlefield in Tupelo, Natchez Trace Parkway, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail in Tupelo, Natchez National Historical Park in Natchez, Gulf Islands National Seashore and Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site in the vicinity of Baldwyn.
More than a half of the state’s land surface is covered in trees, mostly tupelo, sweetgum, pecan, oak, hickory, elm and cottonwood. The frequent flooding, most common between December and June, has been both a blessing and a curse for the state. On one hand, it created the region of fertile soil, ideal for cotton farming, on the other building levees required a lot of manpower, and if the floods get out of control they are capable of making serious damage to the area.
The state has a humid subtropical climate characterized by the mild and short winters and hot, long summers. Summer temperatures are often in the area of 95°F, while in the winter, the temperatures are usually averaging somewhere around 48 °F. During the summer, most of the state has rather similar temperatures, but in the winter, the temperature can vary greatly depending on the region. The Mississippi Sound region is considerably warmer in the winter than the rest of the state. When it comes to temperature extremes in the state, the highest temperature of 115 °F was recorded at Holly Springs in 1930, while the lowest temperature of −19 °F was recorded at Corinth in 1966. Despite the rather warm weather, heavy snowfall is not a rarity in the state. The humidity and yearly precipitation is also quite dependant on the region, usually decreasing from the south to the north of the state. The southern parts of the state are generally averaging some 61 inches of annual rainfall, while the northern parts are usually getting some 50 inches.
The end of the summer and the beginning of fall are when the most of the hurricanes in the state happen. They are most frequent in the southern parts of Mississippi. The two most devastating hurricanes that the state has experienced were the Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Camille in 1969. Thunderstorms are also quite frequent in the state, as are tornadoes. Mississippi is averaging some 27 tornadoes every year.
In 2011 the state’s population was estimated at 2,978,512 inhabitants which presented a 0.38% increase when compared to the previous year. The states center of population is located in the town of Lena in the Leake County. In 2010, 58% of the state’s population was composed of non-Hispanic white people, 1.1% of Hispanic white, 37% of African Americans, 0.5% of American Native and Alaskan Native people, 0.9% of Asian people and 1.1% of multiethnic people.
It is believed that there are significantly more people of Scottish, English and Scots-Irish ancestry in the state than the reports show. This is mostly caused by the fact that many people of such ancestry will declare as having American ancestry if their families have been living in the US for long enough. In 1980, out of the state’s 1,946,775 inhabitants, 38% or 656,371 people declared themselves as being of English ancestry. Today some 14.2% of the state’s inhabitants claim that they have American ancestry, 6.9% Irish, 6.1% English, 4.5% German, 2.3% French, 1.9% Scots-Irish, 1.4% Italian and 1.2% Scottish.
The state had a rather large Choctaw population before 1830 and the signing of the Treaty of Rabbit Creek. This treaty revolved around the sale of the traditionally Choctaw land. They received a compensation for the land and relocated to reservations in today’s Oklahoma. The land was purchased in order to accommodate all the new European settlers to the region. The members of the tribe that didn’t want to leave Mississippi were given US citizenship. Today there are some 9,500 descendant of the members of the tribe who stayed in the region living mostly in Jones, Leake, Newton and Neshoba counties.
Mississippi is located in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the US, and it is the most religious state in the nation, as some 59% of its inhabitants have declared themselves as being ‘very religious’. In the year 2000, 916,440 of the state’s inhabitants were adherents of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was the largest religious denomination in Mississippi at the time, 240,576 people were members of the United Methodist Church, while 115,760 belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.
Mississippi Government and Legislation
The government of Mississippi has three branches, executive, legislative and judicial. The executive branch has the state Governor at the helm. Governor’s duties include granting pardons to the convicted criminals, signing or vetoing new laws and acting as a commander in chief of the Mississippi National Guard. The Governor doesn’t have the power to appoint other state officials; they are instead elected by the state’s voters. Lieutenant Governor acts as the president of the state Senate, and is elected on a separate ticket from the one that the Governor is elected on. Executive branch official serve four year terms, and the elections for the offices are being held in odd numbered years, which is only the case with four other US states, Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana and Kentucky.
The state’s legislative branch is responsible for the introduction of new laws. It is represented by two separate but connected bodies of government, Mississippi state Senate and Mississippi House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is presided over by the House Speaker, who is chosen by the members of the House. Members of the legislative branch also serve four year terms. Currently, Mississippi Senate has 52 members, while the House of Representatives has 122.
The judicial branch works through a number of courts with different jurisdictions and authorities. This includes the local courts, such as Justice Courts, Chancery Courts and Circuit Courts, as well as courts with statewide authority, such as the Court of Appeals and the highest court in the state, the Supreme Court. Mississippi Supreme Court is presided over by nine justices who serve eight year terms, and who are elected from three different districts. Court of Appeals has ten justices, who also serve eight year terms, and who are elected from five different districts. The judges of local courts are being elected by the votes of people living in the region that the court has the jurisdiction over, and they serve four year terms.