There is a lot of history in Mississippi, though much of it is negative. The cotton plantations that gave the state its early prosperity were also the source of its heavy dependency on black slavery. The white landowners who controlled the area never really gave up their sense of authority even after losing the Civil War. As such, visitors often experience a certain tinge of racism in corners of the state, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from making the most of the lovely antebellum towns, rich Delta Blues or fun beaches along the Gulf Coast.
Native Americans have a long history with Mississippi and its lush river valley. The region is one of the oldest inhabited parts of North America, and remnants of the earliest tribes can be seen at archaeological sites along the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway. Today, the remaining Native American tribes like Choctaw, Chicasaw and Natchez operate casinos on their reservations that help maintain the economy.
The French were the first Europeans to claim Mississippi as part of the New France territory. They founded the town of Natchez in 1716, which evolved into the main trading center and dominant town of the region. Natchez remains one of the state’s most popular historic destinations to visit.
In 1783, Mississippi was given to the United States following the Revolutionary War. During the early 1800s it prospered through the cultivation of cotton and other cash crops. But cotton was king, and it fueled great plantations and the slavery required to work the fields. During this era, the state was run by an elite group of slave-owning whites.
Mississippi stood to lose everything if the South lost the Civil War and sent 80,000 men to fight. Many important battles occurred here such as the Battle of Vicksburg and Battle of Grand Gulf, the sites of which are now national parks and popular tourist attractions. The Confederacy did lose, and Mississippi was turned upside down.
Thousands of African Americans migrated to the Mississippi Delta in search of land and work to start a new life. This demographic shift led to many great things such as Delta Blues and other music forms. But Mississippi remained segregated until the very end. The 1962 Ole Miss Riot was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement as the first black student tried to enroll at the university in Oxford. The capital Jackson was a center of conflict, but the racist Ku Klux Klan group was very active in the state. To this day, Mississippi is still one of America’s poorest and most underdeveloped states.
Mississippi is a genuine state of contrasts. It has a huge African American population, but remains one of the country’s most racially divided places. It was once the home of King Cotton in the 1850s, but today is one of America’s poorest and most uneducated states. Visitors will likely notice some of these social issues remaining under the surface. It’s really hit or miss whether you’ll have a positive or negative experience in this proud Deep Southern state.
Yet despite the seemingly negative qualities of Mississippi, there are plenty of bright points. The Mississippi Delta was fertile ground for black musicians following their emancipation. The Delta Blues was born here, along with many other notable forms of jazz, gospel and rock. Much of the 19th-century antebellum prosperity has also survived in towns like Natchez that provide a much-needed injection of tourism dollars. Along the Gulf Coast, the beach towns have a more carefree attitude about life.