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several times that length and incorporates almost forty years of new scholarship including a massive number of books, unpublished theses and dissertations, as well as articles published in the Journal of Mississippi History.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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Holt Collier, a slave, fought for the Confederacy and one
his owner’s family members lived with Collier’s sister, who he could not
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 is now available from UPM and your local bookseller.