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State Guide

Mississippi is a state located in the Deep South of the United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The state's name comes from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, and takes its name from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi ("Great River"). The state is heavily forested outside of the Delta area. Its catfish aquaculture farms produce the majority of this type consumed in the United States.The state symbol is the magnolia.


Mississippi is bordered on the north by Tennessee, on the east by Alabama, on the south by Louisiana and a narrow coast on the Gulf of Mexico, and on the west, across the Mississippi River, by Louisiana and Arkansas.

Major rivers in Mississippi, apart from its namesake, include the Big Black River, the Pearl River, the Yazoo, the Pascagoula, and the Tombigbee. Major lakes include Ross Barnett Reservoir, Arkabutla Lake, Sardis Lake and Grenada Lake.

The state of Mississippi is entirely composed of lowlands, the highest point being Woodall Mountain, in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, only 806 feet (246 m) above sea level. The lowest point is sea level at the Gulf coast. The Mean Elevation in the state is 300 feet (91 m) above sea level.

Most of Mississippi is part of the East Gulf Coastal Plain. The Coastal Plain is generally composed of low hills, such as the Pine Hills in the south and the North Central Hills. The Pontotoc Ridge and the Fall Line Hills in the northeast have somewhat higher elevations. Yellow-brown loess soil is found in the western parts of the state. The northeast is a region of fertile black earth that extends into the Alabama Black Belt.

The coastline includes large bays at Bay St. Louis, Biloxi and Pascagoula. It is separated from the Gulf of Mexico proper by the shallow Mississippi Sound, which is partially sheltered by Petit Bois Island, Horn Island, East and West Ship Islands, Deer Island, Round Island and Cat Island.

The northwest remainder of the state is made up of a section of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, also known as the Mississippi Delta. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain is narrow in the south and widens north of Vicksburg. The region has rich soil, partly made up of silt which had been regularly deposited by the floodwaters of the Mississippi River.

Areas under the management of the National Park Service include:

  • Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site near Baldwyn
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore
  • Natchez National Historical Park in Natchez
  • Natchez Trace Parkway
  • Tupelo National Battlefield in Tupelo
  • Vicksburg National Military Park and Cemetery in Vicksburg


Mississippi has a humid subtropical climate with long summers and short, mild winters. Temperatures average about 82 °F (about 28 °C) in July and about 48 °F (about 9 °C) in January. The temperature varies little statewide in the summer, but in winter the region near Mississippi Sound is significantly warmer than the inland portion of the state. The recorded temperature in Mississippi has ranged from -19 °F (-28.3 °C), in 1966, at Corinth in the northeast, to 115 °F (46.1 °C), in 1930, at Holly Springs in the north. Yearly precipitation generally increases from north to south, with the regions closer to the Gulf being the most humid. Thus, Clarksdale, in the northwest, gets about 50 inches (about 1,270 mm) of precipitation annually and Biloxi, in the south, about 61 inches (about 1,550 mm). Small amounts of snow fall in northern and central Mississippi, although snow is not unheard of around the southern part of the state.

The late summer and fall is the seasonal period of risk for hurricanes moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the southern part of the state. Major hurricanes have devastated coastal communities. Hurricane Katrina (2005) caused millions of dollars of damage to coastal Mississippi in the areas of Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. As in the rest of the Deep South, thunderstorms are common in Mississippi, especially in the southern part of the state. On average, Mississippi has around 27 tornadoes annually; the northern part of the state has more tornadoes earlier in the year and the southern part a higher frequency later in the year. Two of the five deadliest tornadoes in US history have occurred in the state. These storms struck Natchez, in southwest Mississippi ( see The Great Natchez Tornado ) and Tupelo, in the northeast of the state.


Mississippi is heavily forested, with over half of the state's area covered by wild trees; mostly pine, but also cottonwood, elm, hickory, oak, pecan, sweetgum and tupelo. Lumber is a prevalent industry in Mississippi.

Due to seasonal flooding possible from December to June, the Mississippi River created a fertile floodplain in what is called the Mississippi Delta, including tributaries. Early planters used slaves to build levees along the Mississippi River to divert flooding. They built on top of the natural levees that formed from dirt deposited after the river flooded. As cultivation of cotton increased in the Delta, planters hired Irish laborers to ditch and drain their land. The state took over levee building from 1858-1861, accomplishing it through contractors. In those years planters considered their slaves too valuable to hire out for such dangerous work. Contractors hired gangs of Irish immigrant laborers to build levees and sometimes clear land. Before the war, the earthwork levees averaged six feet in height, although in some areas they reached twenty feet.

Flooding has been an integral part of Mississippi history. It took a toll during the years after the Civil War. Major floods swept down the valley in 1865, 1867, 1874 and 1882, regularly overwhelming levees damaged by Confederate and Union fighting during the war, and also those repaired or constructed after the war. In 1877 the Mississippi Levee District was created for southern counties. In 1879 the US Congress created the Mississippi River Commission, whose responsibilities included aiding state levee boards in the construction of levees. Both white and black transient workers built the levees in the late 19th century. By 1882 levees averaged seven feet in height, but many in the southern Delta were severely tested by the flood that year.

After the flood of 1882, the levee system was expanded. By 1884 the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee District was established to oversee levee construction and maintenance in the northern Delta counties. Also included were counties in Arkansas.

Flooding overwhelmed northwestern Mississippi in 1912-1913, causing heavy financial costs to the levee districts. Regional losses and the Mississippi River Levee Association's lobbying for a flood control bill helped gain passage of bills in 1917 and 1923 to provide Federal matching funds for local levee districts, on a scale of 2:1. Although US participation in World War I interrupted funding of levees, the second round of funding helped raise the average height of levees in the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta to 22 feet in the 1920s.

Nonetheless, the region was severely flooded and suffered millions of dollars in damages due to the Great Flood of 1927. Property, stock and crops were all lost. In Mississippi, most damage was in the lower Delta, including Washington and Bolivar counties.


Nearly 10,000 BCE, or BC, Native American or Paleo-Indians appeared in the what today is referred to as the South. Paleoindians in the South were hunter-gatherers who pursued the megafauna that became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. After thousands of years, the Paleoindians developed a rich and complex agricultural society. Archaeologists called these people the Mississippians of the Mississippian culture; they were Mound Builders, whose large earthworks related to political and religious rituals still exist throughout the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. 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, and the Biloxi.

The first major European expedition into the territory that became Mississippi was that of Hernando de Soto, who passed through in 1540. The first European settlement was French, Fort Maurepas (also known as Old Biloxi) built at Ocean Springs and settled by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in April 1699. In 1716, Natchez was founded on the Mississippi River (as Fort Rosalie); it became the dominant town and trading post of the area. After being ruled by Spanish, British, and French colonial governments, the Mississippi area was deeded to the British after the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War) under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1763).

The Mississippi territory was organized on April 7, 1798, from territory ceded by Georgia and South Carolina. It was later twice expanded to include disputed territory claimed by both the U.S. and Spain. The United States purchased land (generally through unequal treaties) from Native American tribes from 1800 to about 1830.

On December 10, 1817, Mississippi was the 20th state admitted to the Union.

When cotton was king during the 1850s, Mississippi plantation owners—especially those of the Delta and Black Belt regions—became wealthy due to the high fertility of the soil, the high price of cotton on the international market, and their assets in slaves. The planters' dependence on hundreds of thousands of slaves for labor, and the severe wealth imbalances among whites, played strong roles both in state politics and in planters' support for secession. By 1860 the enslaved population numbered 436,631 or 55% of the state's total of 791,305. There were fewer than 1000 free people of color. The relatively low population of the state before the Civil War reflected the fact that much of the state was still wilderness and needed many more settlers for development.

Mississippi was the second state to secede from the Union as one of the Confederate States of America on January 9, 1861. During the Civil War the Confederate States were defeated.

During Reconstruction the first constitutional convention in 1868 framed a constitution whose major elements would last for 22 years. The convention was the first political organization to include colored representatives, 17 among the 100 members. Although 32 counties had black majorities, they elected whites as well as blacks to represent them. The convention adopted universal suffrage; did away with property qualifications for suffrage or for office, which benefited poor whites, too; provided 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. Under the terms of Reconstruction, Mississippi was readmitted to the Union on February 23, 1870.

While Mississippi typified the Deep South in passing Jim Crow laws in the early 20th century, its history was more complex. Because the Mississippi Delta contained so much fertile bottomland which had not been developed before the Civil War, 90 percent of the land was still frontier. After the Civil War, tens of thousands of migrants were attracted to the area. They could earn money by clearing the land and selling timber, and eventually advance to ownership. The new farmers included freedmen, who achieved unusually high rates of land ownership in the Mississippi bottomlands. In the 1870s and 1880s, many black farmers succeeded in gaining ownership of land.

By the turn of the century, two-thirds of the farmers in Mississippi who owned land in the Delta were African American. Many were able to keep going through difficult years of falling cotton prices only by extending their debts. Cotton prices fell throughout the decades following the Civil War. As another agricultural depression lowered cotton prices into the 1890s, however, numerous African American farmers finally had to sell their land to pay off debts, and thus lost the land into which they had put so much labor. By 1910, the majority of blacks in the Delta were landless laborers.

White legislators created a new constitution in 1890, with provisions that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Estimates are that 100,000 blacks and 50,000 whites were removed from voter registration rolls over the next few years. The loss of political influence contributed to the difficulties of African Americans' getting extended credit. Together with Jim Crow laws, increased lynchings in the 1890s, failure of the cotton crops due to boll weevil infestation, successive severe flooding in 1912 and 1913 created crisis conditions for many African Americans. With control of the ballot box and more access to credit, white planters expanded their ownership of Delta bottomlands and could take advantage of new railroads.

By 1910 a majority of black farmers in the Delta had lost their land and were sharecroppers. By 1920, the third generation after freedom, most African Americans in Mississippi were landless laborers facing poverty. Starting about 1913, tens of thousands of African Americans left Mississippi to migrate north in the Great Migration to industrial cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, seeking jobs, better education for their children, the right to vote, and better living. In the migration of 1910-1940, they left a society that had been steadily closing off opportunity. Most migrants from Mississippi took trains directly north to Chicago.

The Second Great Migration (African American) from the South started in the 1940s, lasting until 1970. Almost half a million people left Mississippi in the second migration, three-quarters of them black. Nationwide during the first half of the 20th century, African Americans became rapidly urbanized and many worked in industrial jobs.

Mississippi generated rich, quintessentially American music traditions: gospel music, country music, jazz, blues, and rock and roll. All were invented, promulgated, or heavily developed by Mississippi musicians, and most came from the Mississippi Delta. Many musicians carried their music north to Chicago, where they made it the heart of that city's jazz and blues.

The state's complex history has generated great storytellers. Mississippi is noted for award-winning twentieth-century authors native to or associated with the state, including Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner, playwrights Tennessee Williams and Beth Henley, authors Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Ellen Douglas, Walker Percy, Willie Morris, Margaret Walker, Ellen Gilchrist, and Alice Walker, and historian Shelby Foote.

Mississippi was a center of activity to educate and register voters during the Civil Rights Movement. Although 42% of the state's population was African American in 1960, discriminatory voter registration processes still prevented most of them from voting. These provisions had been in place since 1890. Students and community organizers from across the country came to help register voters and establish Freedom Schools. Resistance and harsh attitudes of many white politicians (including the creation of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission), the participation of Mississippians in the White Citizens' Councils, and the violent tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and its sympathizers, gained Mississippi a reputation in the 1960s as a reactionary state.

In 1966 the state was the last to repeal prohibition of alcohol. In 1995 it symbolically ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which had abolished slavery. While the state was late in ratifying the amendments, it had obeyed them.

On August 17, 1969, Category 5 Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi coast, killing 248 people and causing US$1.5 billion in damage (1969 dollars). On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, though a Category 3 storm upon final landfall, caused even greater destruction across the entire 90 miles (145 km) of Mississippi Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama.



As of 2005, Mississippi has an estimated population of 2,921,088, which is an increase of 20,320, or 0.7%, from the prior year and an increase of 76,432, or 2.7%, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 80,733 people (that is 228,849 births minus 148,116 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 75 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 10,653 people, and migration within the country produced a net loss of 10,578 people. Mississippi's population has the largest proportion of African Americans of any U.S. state, currently nearly 37%.

The 2000 Census reported Mississippi's population as 2,844,658 [2]. The center of population of Mississippi is located in Leake County, in the town of Lena.

Racial makeup and ancestry

The Census Bureau considers race and Hispanic ethnicity to be two separate categories. These data, however, are only for non-Hispanic members of each group: non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, etc.

On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed between the U.S. Government and Native American Choctaws. The Choctaws agreed to giving up their traditional homelands in Mississippi and Alabama, which opened it up for American and European immigrant settlement. Article 14 in the treaty allowed the Choctaws to remain in the state of Mississippi and to become the first major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens. Today approximately 9,500 Choctaws live in Neshoba, Newton, Leake, and Jones counties.

Until the 1930s, African Americans made up a majority of Mississippians. Due to the Great Migration, when more than 360,000 African Americans left the state during the 1940s and after for better economic opportunities in the northern and western states, Mississippi's African-American population declined. The state has the highest proportion of African Americans in the nation. Recently, the African-American percentage of population has begun to increase due mainly to a higher birth rate than the state average. Due to pattterns of settlement, in many of Mississippi's public school districts, a majority of students are of African descent. [4] African Americans are the majority ethnic group in the northwestern Yazoo Delta, the southwestern and the central parts of the state, chiefly areas where the group owned land as farmers or worked on cotton plantations and farms.

More than 98% of the white population of Mississippi is native born, predominantly of British and Celtic descent. According to the 2000 census, the largest ancestries are:

  • American (14.2%)
  • Irish (6.9%)
  • English (6.1%)
  • German (4.5%)
  • French (2.3%)
  • Scots-Irish (1.9%)
  • Italian (1.4%)
  • Scottish (1.2%)

People of French Creole ancestry form the largest demographic group in Hancock County on the Gulf Coast. The African-American; Choctaw, mostly in Neshoba County; and Chinese-American segments of the population are also almost entirely native born.

Although some ethnic Chinese were recruited as indentured laborers from Cuba during the 1870s and later 19th c., the majority immigrated directly from China to Mississippi between 1910-1930. While planters first made arrangements with the Chinese for sharecropping, most Chinese soon left that work. Many became small merchants and especially grocers in towns throughout the Delta.

According to recent statistics, Mississippi leads the country in the rate of increase of immigrants, but that is compared to years when it attracted no immigrants.


The hot climate and poor nutrition appear to contribute to problems with weight. For three years in a row, more than 30 percent of Mississippi's residents have been classified as obese. In the most recent study (2006), 22.8 percent of the state's children were classified as obese. Mississippi has the highest rate of obesity of any U.S. state.

Gay and lesbian community

In response to a murder and legislation to ban same-sex couples in the state from adopting children, a statewide gay rights organization was formed in March of 2000. First called Mississippi Gay Lobby, it changed its name in 2001 to the more inclusive Equality Mississippi.

The United States 2000 Census counted 4,774 same-sex couple households in Mississippi. Mississippi was one of three states - the others being South Dakota and Utah - in which 40 percent or more of same-sex couple households had at least one child living in the household.

Of Mississippi’s same-sex couples, 41% have one or more children. This figure is higher in Mississippi than in any other state. Further, Mississippi has a larger percentage of African-American same-sex couples among total households than does any other state. Additionally, Mississippi ranks number 5 in the nation in the percentage of Hispanic same-sex couples among all Hispanic households. Mississippi ranks number 9 nationally among states with the highest concentration of same-sex couples who are seniors.

Jackson, the state capital, ranks number 10 in the nation in concentration of African-American same-sex couples.

In 2004, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by 86%, the largest proportion of any state. The amendment also prohibits Mississippi from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries where it may be legal.


The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that Mississippi's total state product in 2006 was $84 billion. Per capita personal income in 2006 was only $26,908, the lowest per capita personal income of any state, but the state also has the nation's lowest living costs. Although the state has one of the lowest per capita income rates in the United States, Mississippians consistently rank as one of the highest per capita in charitable contributions.

Before the Civil War, Mississippi was the fifth-wealthiest state in the nation. Slaves were then counted as property and the rise in the cotton markets since the 1840s had increased their value. A majority - 55 percent - of the population of Mississippi was enslaved in 1860.

Largely due to the domination of the plantation economy, focused on the production of agricultural cotton only, the state was slow to use its wealth to invest in infrastructure such as public schools, roads and railroads. Industrialization did not come in many areas until the late 20th century. The planter aristocracy, the elite of antebellum Mississippi, kept the tax structure low for themselves and made private improvements. Before the war the most successful planters, such as Confederate President Jefferson Davis, owned riverside properties along the Mississippi River. Most of the state was undeveloped frontier away from the riverfronts.

During the Civil War, 30,000 Mississippi men were killed, and many more were left crippled and wounded. Changes to the labor structure and an agricultural depression throughout the South caused severe losses in wealth. In 1860 assessed valuation of property in Mississippi had been more than $500 million, of which $218 million (43 percent) was estimated as the value of slaves. By 1870, total assets had decreased in value to roughly $177 million.

Poor whites and landless former slaves suffered the most from the economic depression. The constitutional convention of early 1868 appointed a committee to recommend what was needed for relief of the state and its citizens. The committee found severe destitution among the laboring classes. It took years for the state to rebuild levees damaged in battles. The upset of the commodity system impoverished the state after the war. By 1868 an increased cotton crop began to show possibilities for free labor in the state, but the crop of 565,000 bales produced in 1870 was still less than half of prewar figures. By 1900, two-thirds of farm owners in Mississippi were blacks, but two decades later the majority of African Americans were sharecroppers. The low prices of cotton into the 1890s meant that more than a generation of African Americans lost the result of their labor when they had to sell off their farms to pay off accumulated debts.

Mississippi's rank as one of the poorest states is related to its dependence on cotton agriculture before and after the Civil War, late development of its frontier bottomlands in the Mississippi Delta, repeated natural disasters of flooding in the late 19th and early 20th century requiring massive capital investment in levees, heavy capital investment to ditch and drain the bottomlands, and slow development of railroads to link bottomland towns and river cities. The 1890 constitution discouraged industry, a legacy that would slow the state's progress for years.

From Democratic militias and groups such as the White Camellia terrorizing African American Republicans to take political control in the 1870s, to the legislature passing segregation and disfranchisement legislation, the state refused for years to build human capital by fully educating all its citizens. In addition, the reliance on agriculture grew increasingly costly as the state suffered loss of crops due to the devastation of the boll weevil in the early 20th century, devastating floods in 1912-1913 and 1927, collapse of cotton prices after 1920, and drought in 1930.

It was not until 1884, after the flood of 1882, that the state created the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta District Levee Board and started successfully achieving longer term plans for levees in the upper Delta.

Despite the state's building and reinforcing levees for years, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 broke through and caused massive flooding of 27,000 square miles (70,000 km²) throughout the Delta and millions of dollars in property damages. With the Depression coming so soon after the flood, the state suffered badly during those years. Tens of thousands of people migrated north for jobs and chances to live as full citizens.

The legislature's 1990 decision to legalize casino gambling along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast has led to economic gains for the state. An estimated $500,000 per day in tax revenue was lost following Hurricane Katrina's severe damage to several coastal casinos in August 2005. Gambling towns in Mississippi include the Gulf Coast towns of Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Biloxi, and the Mississippi River towns of Tunica (the third largest gaming area in the United States), Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez. Before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Mississippi was the second largest gambling state in the Union, after Nevada and ahead of New Jersey.

On October 17, 2005, Governor Haley Barbour signed a bill into law that now allows casinos in Hancock and Harrison counties to rebuild on land (but within 800 feet (240 m) of the water). The only exception is in Harrison County, where the new law states that casinos can be built to the southern boundary of U.S. Route 90.

Mississippi collects personal income tax in three tax brackets, ranging from 3% to 5%. The retail sales tax rate in Mississippi is 7%. Additional local sales taxes also are collected. For purposes of assessment for ad valorem taxes, taxable property is divided into five classes.

On August 30, 2007, a report by the United States Census Bureau indicated that Mississippi was the poorest state in the country. Many white cotton farmers in the Delta have large, mechanized plantations, some of which receive extensive Federal subsidies, yet many African Americans still live as poor, rural, landless laborers. Of $1.2 billion from 2002-2005 in Federal subsidies to farmers in the Bolivar County area of the Delta, only 5% went to small farmers. There has been little money apportioned for rural development. Small towns are struggling. More than 100,000 people, mostly African American, have left the region in search of work elsewhere. The state had a median household income of $34,473.



Mississippi is served by eight interstate highways:

  • Interstate 10
  • Interstate 20
  • Interstate 22 (Future)
  • Interstate 55
  • Interstate 59
  • Interstate 69
  • Interstate 110
  • Interstate 220
  • Interstate 269 (Future)

and fourteen main U.S. Routes:

  • U.S. Route 11
  • U.S. Route 45
  • U.S. Route 49
  • U.S. Route 51
  • U.S. Route 61
  • U.S. Route 72
  • U.S. Route 78
  • U.S. Route 80
  • U.S. Route 82
  • U.S. Route 84
  • U.S. Route 90
  • U.S. Route 98
  • U.S. Route 278
  • U.S. Route 425

as well as a system of State Highways.

For more information, visit the Mississippi Department of Transportation website.



Amtrak provides scheduled passenger service along two routes.


All but one of the United States Class I railroads serves Mississippi (the sole exception is the Union Pacific):

  • Canadian National Railway's Illinois Central Railroad subsidiary provides north-south service.
  • BNSF Railway has an east-west line across northern Mississippi.
  • Kansas City Southern Railway provides east-west service in the middle of thee state and north-south service along the Alabama state line.
  • Norfolk Southern Railway provides service in the extreme north and southeast.
  • CSX has a line along the Gulf Coast.


Major rivers

  • Big Black River
  • Mississippi River
  • Pascagoula River
  • Pearl River
  • Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway
  • Yazoo River

Major lakes

  • Arkabutla Lake - 19,550 acres (79.1 km²) of water; constructed and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District
  • Grenada Lake - 35,000 acres (140 km²) of water; became operational in 1954; constructed and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District
  • Ross Barnett Reservoir - Named for Ross Barnett, the 52nd Governor of Mississippi; 33,000 acres of water; became operational in 1966; constructed and managed by The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, a state agency; Provides water supply for the City of Jackson; Commonly referred to by locals as "The Rez"
  • Sardis Lake - 98,520 acres (398.7 km²) of water; became operational in October 1940; constructed and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District

Law and government

As with all other U.S. states and the federal government, Mississippi's government is based on the separation of legislative, executive and judicial power. Executive authority in the state rests with the Governor, currently Haley Barbour (R). The Lieutenant Governor, currently Phil Bryant (R), is elected on a separate ballot. Both the governor and lieutenant governor are elected to four-year terms of office. Unlike the federal government, but like many other U.S. States, most of the heads of major executive departments are elected by the citizens of Mississippi rather than appointed by the governor.

Mississippi is one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd numbered years (The others are Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Virginia). Mississippi holds elections for these offices every four years in the years preceding Presidential election years. Thus, the last year when Mississippi elected a Governor was 2007, and the next gubernatorial election will occur in 2011.

Legislative authority resides in the state legislature, composed of the Senate and House of Representatives. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, while the House of Representatives selects their own Speaker. The state constitution permits the legislature to establish by law the number of senators and representatives, up to a maximum of 52 senators and 122 representatives. Current state law sets the number of senators at 52 and representatives at 122. The term of office for senators and representatives is four years.

Judicial branch

Supreme judicial authority rests with the state Supreme Court, which has statewide authority. In addition, there is a statewide Court of Appeals, as well as Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts and Justice Courts, which have more limited geographical jurisdiction. The nine judges of the Supreme Court are elected from three districts (three judges per district) by the state's citizens in non-partisan elections to eight-year staggered terms. The ten judges of the Court of Appeals are elected from five districts (two judges per district) for eight-year staggered terms. Judges for the smaller courts are elected to four-year terms by the state's citizens who live within that court's jurisdiction.

Federal representation

Mississippi has two U.S. Senate seats. One is currently held by Thad Cochran (Republican) and the other is held by Roger Wicker (Republican) as he was appointed on December 31, 2007 by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour due to Trent Lott resigning on December 18, 2007. Wicker will serve until an election is held for the remainder of Lott's unexpired term (see United States Senate special election in Mississippi, 2008).

As of the 2001 apportionment, the state has four congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently Chip Pickering (Republican), Bennie Thompson (Democrat), Gene Taylor (Democrat), and Travis Childers (Democrat).


Federal politics

Mississippi, like the rest of the South, long supported the Democratic Party. The policies of Reconstruction, which included federally appointed Republican governors, led to white Southern resentment toward the Republican Party. Following the Compromise of 1877, federal troops enforcing the provisions of Reconstruction were pulled out of the South. The Democratic Party regained political control of the state, partly by using methods designed to suppress black voter turnout, which had understandably favored Republican candidates and the party of Lincoln.

In 1890 the elite white-dominated Mississippi legislature created a new constitution, the first in the South of what were called disfranchising constitutions. They contained provisions, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, that in practice effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. When Mississippi's constitution passed a Supreme Court challenge in Williams v. Mississippi (1898), other Southern states quickly included such provisions in their own new constitutions. By 1900 these measures effectively disfranchised nearly all black voters in the state. When the grandfather clause was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Guinn v. United States (1915), Mississippi and other states which had used it quickly passed other statutes to restrict black registration and voting. Disfranchisement of blacks and poor whites continued for six decades.

During the fall of 1963, civil rights activists quickly registered 80,000 black voters in Mississippi for the straw Freedom Vote, to demonstrate the people's ambition and eagerness to vote. In 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed, creating a list of candidates to challenge the official, all-white slate of the state's Democratic Party. The MFDP also mounted protests at the national convention, where they demanded to be seated as official delegates. Not until the late 1960s, following passage of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson, would most African American men and women have the chance to vote in Mississippi and other Southern states.

For 116 years (from 1876 to 1992), Mississippi was essentially a one-party state, electing Democratic governors. Over the same period, the Democratic Party dominated state and federal elections in Mississippi. Until the late 1960s, the party was essentially all white. The enfranchisement of African Americans after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 happened with the support of the national Democratic Party, and most blacks joined the Democratic Party at the state level.

Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has become competitive in statewide elections. Many conservative white Democrats have switched parties, or at least become willing to support Republicans in national contests. In 1964, Barry Goldwater took an unheard-of 87 percent of the state's popular vote (before most African Americans could vote.) Since then, Mississippi has supported a Democrat for president only once, in 1976, when a son of the South ran. That year, Jimmy Carter narrowly carried the state by two percentage points.

On September 26, 2008, Presidential candidates will debate at the University of Mississippi in the state's first debate.

State politics

Mississippi has 82 counties. Citizens of Mississippi counties elect the members of their county Board of Supervisors from single-member districts, as well as other county officials.

On some social issues, Mississippi is one of the more conservative states in the US, with religion often playing a large role in citizens' political views. Liquor laws are particularly strict and variable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Liquor sales are frequently banned on Sunday. Many cities and counties allow no alcoholic beverage sales ("dry"), while others allow beer but not liquor, or liquor but not beer. Some allow beer sales, but only if it is not refrigerated. In 2001, Mississippi banned adoption by same-sex couples and banned recognition of adoptions by same-sex couples which were done and recognized in other states or countries. In 2004, 86% of voter turnout amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and ban state recognition of same-sex marriages which were done and recognized in other states and countries.

At the same time, Mississippi has been one of the more innovative states in the country, having been the first state to implement a sales tax and the first state to pass a Married Women's Property Act. Also, Mississippi has elected more African-American officials than any other state in the United States. Mississippi is one of only a few states to have decriminalized the possession of marijuana, so that possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana is punishable only by a fine of $100 - $250 for the first offense with no jail time.

Major cities and towns

  • Biloxi
  • Canton
  • Clarksdale
  • Cleveland
  • Clinton
  • Columbus
  • Corinth
  • Greenville
  • Gulfport
  • Hattiesburg
  • Jackson
  • McComb
  • Moss Point
  • Meridian
  • Natchez
  • Oxford
  • Pascagoula
  • Pearl
  • Southaven
  • Starkville
  • Tupelo
  • Vicksburg

Mississippi City Population Rankings of at least 20,000 (United States Census Bureau estimates as of 2005):

1. Jackson, Mississippi (177,977)
2. Gulfport, Mississippi (72,464)
3. Biloxi, Mississippi (50,209)
4. Hattiesburg, Mississippi (47,176)
5. Southaven, Mississippi (38,840)
6. Greenville, Mississippi (38,724)
7. Meridian, Mississippi (38,605)
8. Tupelo, Mississippi (35,930)
9. Olive Branch, Mississippi (27,964)
10. Clinton, Mississippi (26,017)
11. Vicksburg, Mississippi (25,752)
12. Pascagoula, Mississippi (25,173)
13. Columbus, Mississippi (24,425)
14. Pearl, Mississippi (23,111)
15. Starkville, Mississippi (22,131)


Until the Civil War era, Mississippi had only a small number of schools and no educational institutions for black people. The first school for black people was established in 1862.

During Reconstruction in 1870, black and white Republicans were the first to establish a system of public education in the state. The state's dependence on agriculture and resistance to taxation limited the funds it had available to spend on any schools. As late as the early 20th century, there were few schools in rural areas. With seed money from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, many rural black communities across Mississippi raised matching funds and contributed public funds to build new schools for their children. Essentially, many black adults taxed themselves twice and made significant sacrifices to raise money for the education of children in their communities.

Blacks and whites attended separate public schools in Mississippi until the 1960s, when they began to be integrated following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. Population settlement patterns have resulted in many districts that are de facto segregated.

In the late 1980s, the state had 954 public elementary and secondary schools, with a total yearly enrollment of about 369,500 elementary pupils and about 132,500 secondary students. Some 45,700 students attended private schools. In 2004, Mississippi was ranked last among the fifty states in academic achievement by the American Legislative Exchange Council's Report Card on Education, with the lowest average ACT scores and spending per pupil in the nation.

In 2007, Mississippi students scored the lowest of any state on the National Assessments of Educational Progress in both math and science.

Colleges, universities and community colleges

  • Alcorn State University
  • Belhaven College
  • Blue Mountain College
  • Coahoma Community College
  • Copiah-Lincoln Community College
  • Delta State University
  • East Central Community College
  • East Mississippi Community College
  • Hinds Community College
  • Holmes Community College
  • Itawamba Community College
  • Jackson State University
  • Jones County Junior College
  • Magnolia Bible College
  • Meridian Community College
  • Millsaps College
  • Mississippi College
  • Mississippi Delta Community College
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
  • Mississippi State University
  • Mississippi University for Women
  • Mississippi Valley State University
  • Northeast Mississippi Community College
  • Northwest Mississippi Community College
  • Pearl River Community College
  • Reformed Theological Seminary
  • Rust College
  • Southwest Mississippi Community College
  • Tougaloo College
  • University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
  • University of Mississippi Medical Center
  • University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss)
  • Wesley Biblical Seminary
  • Wesley College
  • William Carey University


While Mississippi has been especially known for its music and literature, it has embraced other forms of art, too. Its strong religious traditions have inspired striking works by outsider artists who have been shown nationally.

Jackson established an annual ballet competition that attracts the most talented young dancers from around the world.

The Magnolia Independent Film Festival, still held annually in Starksville, is the first and oldest in the state.


Musicians of the state's Delta region were historically significant to the development of the blues. Their laments arose out of the region's hard times after Reconstruction. Although by the end of the 19th century, two-thirds of the farm owners were black, continued low prices for cotton and national financial pressures resulted in most of them losing their land. More problems built up with the boll weevil infestation, when thousands of agricultural jobs were lost. Mississippi blues greats include: Bo Carter, Son House, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Skip James, Bukka White, Tommy Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Willie Brown, Big Joe Williams, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Rogers, Bo Diddley, Otis Rush, Otis Spann, and B. B. King. Many Mississippi musicians migrated to Chicago and created new forms of jazz and other genres there.

Jimmie Rodgers, a native of Meridian and white guitarist/singer/songwriter known as the "Godfather of Country", also played a significant role in the development of the blues. He and Chester Arthur Burnett were friends and admirers of each other's music. Rodgers was supposed to have given Burnett his nickname of Howlin' Wolf. Their friendship and respect is an important example of Mississippi's musical legacy. While the state has had a reputation for being the most racist in America, individual musicians created an integrated music community. Mississippi musicians created new forms by combining and creating variations on musical traditions from Africa with the musical traditions of white Southerners, a tradition largely rooted in Scots-Irish music.

The state is creating a Mississippi Blues Trail, with dedicated markers explaining historic sites significant to the history of blues music, such as Clarksdale's Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith died after her auto accident on Highway 61. The Riverside Hotel is just one of many historical blues sites in Clarksdale. The Delta Blues Museum there is visited by tourists from all over the world. Close by are "Ground Zero" and "Madidi", a contemporary blues club and restaurant co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman.

Mississippi has also been fundamental to the development of American music has a whole. Elvis Presley, who created a sensation in the 1950s as a crossover artist and contributed to rock 'n' roll, was a native of Tupelo, Mississippi. From opera star Leontyne Price to the alternative rock band 3 Doors Down, to gulf and western singer Jimmy Buffett, Mississippi musicians have been significant in all genres.


  • Biloxi is home to one of two Mississippi-based professional ice hockey teams, the Mississippi Sea Wolves. The Sea Wolves are a minor league team based at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. The ECHL's 1998-1999 Kelly Cup Champions return to the ice for the 2007-2008 season after a two-year hiatus due to Hurricane Katrina damage in 2005 at the Coliseum.
  • Southaven, Mississippi hosts the Mississippi RiverKings of the CHL, who changed their name from the Memphis Riverkings after an online fan vote to select a new team name.
  • Pearl, Mississippi is the home of the Mississippi Braves. The Braves are a AA minor league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. They play in the Southern League.
  • Tupelo, Mississippi hosts the Mississippi Mudcats of the American Indoor Football Association.
  • The NBHA (National Barrel Horse Association) holds the annual Youth World Barrel Racing competition in Jackson during the last week of July.

Famous Mississippians

Mississippi has produced a number of notable and famous individuals, especially in the realm of music and literature. Among the most notable are:

  • Actors: Jim Henson, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Gerald McRaney, Parker Posey and Sela Ward.
  • Athletes: Archie Manning, Brett Favre, Cool Papa Bell, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Deuce McAllister and Steve McNair.
  • Authors: William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, John Grisham, Thomas Harris, Alice Walker, Eudora Welty and Richard Wright.
  • Musicians: B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Jimmie Rodgers, Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Buffett, Charlie Pride, Muddy Waters, Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Leontyne Price, Faith Hill, 3 Doors Down, LeAnn Rimes, Lance Bass and Brandy.
  • Civil Rights Leaders: Medgar Evers and Charles Evers.

Trivia and modern culture related

Children in the United States and Canada often count "One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi" during informal games such as hide and seek to approximate counting by seconds.

In 1891 the Biedenharn Candy Company bottled the first Coca-Cola in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Root beer was invented in Biloxi in 1898 by Edward Adolf Barq, the namesake of Barq's Root Beer.

The Teddy bear gets its name from President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. On a 1902 hunting trip to Sharkey County, Mississippi, he refused to shoot a captured bear.

In 1936 Dr. Leslie Rush, of Rush Hospital in Meridian, Mississippi performed the first bone pinning in the United States. The "Rush Pin" is still in use.

Burnita Shelton Matthews from near Hazlehurst, Mississippi was the first woman appointed as a judge of a U.S. district court. She was appointed by Harry S. Truman on October 21, 1949.

Marilyn Monroe won the Miss Mississippi finals in the 1952 movie We're Not Married.

In 1963 Dr. James D. Hardy of the University of Mississippi Medical Center performed the first human lung transplant in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1964, Dr. Hardy performed the first heart transplant, transplanting the heart of a chimpanzee into a human, where it beat for 90 minutes.

Several warships have been named USS Mississippi.

The comic book character Rogue, from the well-known series X-Men, is a Mississippian and self-declared southern belle. Her home town is located in the fictional county of Caldecott.

For the past seven years, the Sundancer Solar Race Team from Houston, MS, has won first place in the Open Division of the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge.

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