Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ten ‘New’ Facts about Mississippi History

The last book to chronicle the entire history of the state for the public appeared in 1976 when Ray Skates published Mississippi: A Bicentennial History. At 188 pages, it was a brief account written close to the “Second Reconstruction” brought on by the Civil Rights Movement.


Dennis Mitchell’s A New History of Mississippi is several times that length and incorporates almost forty years of new scholarship including a massive number of books, unpublished theses and dissertations, as well as articles published in the Journal of Mississippi History. This book draws on that enormous new volume of scholarhsip to tell a much more complex story of the state’s past.

Much of A New History of Mississippi’s re-interpretation of the past is driven by the need to include those elements of the population excluded in older histories and by the decision always to depict the various individuals of both gender—be they black, white, Indian, or Chinese —s active forces in shaping their state.

Below are ten facts covered in Mitchell’s new history:

  1. Native Americans are depicted as playing an active, complicated role in shaping the state’s development. Mitchell treats their culture with respect and chronicles how Europeans enslaved them and then how the Choctaw and Chickasaw began to enslave Africans.

  2. Choctaw Indians fought the state to avoid being labeled as “colored” and to prevent their children being sent to black schools.A Choctaw “full blood movement” in the early 1900s proved successful in separating the Choctaw from the “colored” category that the state tried to apply lumping them with the black population.

  3. The evolution of slavery from a frontier institution based on more personal relationships to the industrial style plantation system is told using as much biography as possible including Tony, who returned from Florida to Natchez to protect the mother and children of his white family and Abdu-l-Rahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, an African prince who became a national celebrity and returned to Africa.

  4. Joseph Jefferson, elder brother of Jefferson, who epitomized the innovative, patriarchal planters and never gave Jefferson a deed to the plantation that Jefferson developed next to Joseph’s.

  5. Holt Collier, a slave, fought for the Confederacy and one his owner’s family members lived with Collier’s sister, who he could not legally marry.

  6. The majority of Mississippians viewed the Civil War as a victory because it gave them their freedom. From 1840 to 1940, black Mississippians were the majority of the in the state.

  7. Freedmen imposed the adoption of sharecropping on planters after the Civil War in order to retain control over their families and in hopes that they could use the system to acquire land in the future.

  8. James Smylie changed white perceptions of slavery in the 1830s by preaching the “curse of Ham” that proved God intended for black people to be slaves. Prior to his sermon and pamphlets, most white church people understood slavery to be an evil institution.

  9. By the 1930s, environmental degradation had denuded the state’s forests and reduced the deer population almost to extinction. New Deal programs began the land’s restoration and created the state parks.

  10. The Mississippi struggle for civil rights was a locally led movement produced by men such as Dr. Gilbert Mason, who went to medical school out of state on a state paid scholarship intended to preserve segregated schools.
A New History of Mississippi follows a strictly chronological format. In doing so, Mitchell is able to weave together and explain the interrelated impact of so many occurrences, large and small, that make up the state’s conflicted history. The result is an analytical insight into Mississippi history that will appeal not only to the serious history buff but also to the causal and curious reader.

A New History of Mississippi is now available from UPM and your local bookseller. 

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