July 11, 2012

Mississippi – “The Magnolia State”

 

Mississippi map

 

Just the Facts…

bird – Mockingbird
flower – Magnolia
tree – Southern Magnolia
capital – Jackson
union – 20th on December 10, 1817
population – about 3 million

 

 

 

 

The Basics 

The state of Mississippi is named after the Mississippi River, which forms its western border.  The name Mississippi River comes from the Ojibwe word that means “Great River.”

The land that is now Mississippi was first explored and settled by the French and Spanish (after all, it is just east of Louisiana).   It became an American territory (the Mississippi Territory) in 1798 from land given up by Georgia and South Carolina.  Plantation owners moved west from other southern states and settled along the Mississippi River.  Until after the Civil War, the rest of Mississippi was wild land.

The northern part of Mississippi has some rolling hills (they are the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains) but the rest of Mississippi is rather flat.  Western Mississippi is part of the Mississippi River floodplain and as a result contains rich soil – when the River floods, it leaves rich minerals and top soil behind. Mississippi also has some coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, which includes some pretty great beaches.

Mississippi is hot and humid!  Being along the coast, it is at risk for hurricanes in the fall.  And, while it does snow periodically, it is usually limited to the northern part of the state.  Mississippi is home to the Pascagoula River, which is sometimes called the “singing river”!  You might hear the River “sing” in the early evening, especially in late summer or early fall.  Some think the “singing” sounds like music and some think it sounds like a swarm of bees.  There are many legends as to why the river sings – one is that a mermaid used to sing the native Pascagoula tribe to sleep each night!

 

Its Claim to Fame

Much of western Mississippi is kept dry through a system of levees to control the Mississippi River.  A levee is a dam that runs along the banks of a river to prevent it from flooding.  The levees along the Mississippi were first built in the early 1800’s by slaves to create more farmland for cotton plantations.  These first levees were hills of dirt, ranging from 6 feet high to 20 feet in some areas.  Many were destroyed during the Civil War and had to be rebuilt.  Then, the federal government created the Mississippi River Commission to rebuild these levees.  Now, scientists are realizing that the levees may actually make flooding worse because they change the current of the River and eliminate wetlands along its shore.

One of the first teddy bears was made in Mississippi!  Over 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt was hunting in the Mississippi woods.  He was officially on a bear hunt, but mostly he just liked to be out in the wilderness (remember that President Roosevelt created our very first national park – Yellowstone?).  The President came upon an old bear and refuse to shoot it.  A local woman named Rose sewed a stuffed bear in honor of the President (whose nickname was Teddy Roosevelt!).  Her husband wanted to sell the stuffed bears in his store and asked the President if he could call them “Teddy Bears”!

 

What Makes it Tick

Before the Civil War, Mississippi had a strong plantation system that relied on slave labor.  At the start of the Civil War, slaves made up nearly 50% of Mississippi’s population.  The largest plantations grew cotton along the Mississippi River.  The River provided them with transportation for their cotton.

After the Civil War, Mississippi initially offered opportunity for freed slaves.   Immediately after the Civil War, many freed slaves settled in the Mississippi wilderness.  They cleared the land of trees and sold the wood as timber.  Then, they built farmhouses and planted cotton crops.  By 1900, many of the farms in the Mississippi Delta were owned by African Americans.

But, this opportunity was not to last.  In 1890, Mississippi passed a new state Constitution that effectively took away some rights previously given to blacks during Reconstruction of the South (to be restored as a state in the Union, Mississippi had to guarantee blacks certain right in its Constitution).  Many blacks no longer met the voting requirements and therefore had no more voice in the government.  As a result, Mississippi was able to pass a series of laws designed to separate blacks from whites in all public areas like education, transportation, and restaurants.  These Jim Crow laws put blacks at a considerable disadvantage.  For example, black farmers could not get a loan when the cotton prices declined and they fell on hard times.

By 1910, most black farmers had to sell their land to settle their debts.  Within a few years, these people left Mississippi to seek opportunities in the northern states.  Many blacks moved to northern cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and St. Louis in search of a better life – this became known as the Great Migration.

Mississippi was important to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.  An example is the Mississippi Summer Project, sometimes called Freedom Summer.  During the summer of 1964, over one thousand students and civil rights advocates came to Mississippi from all over the country.  Their goal was to register as many blacks to vote as possible.  Before this summer, less than 10% of African Americans eligible to vote were actually registered.  The effort was very controversial in Mississippi and many white residents responded with violence.  Although the volunteers did not register as many Blacks as as hoped, Freedom Summer helped to finally bring national attention to the Civil Rights Movement.

 

If You Visited

If you visited Mississippi, you might go to the World Catfish Festival!  Belzoni, Mississippi calls itself the “Catfish Capital of the World” and hosts a festival every year in honor of the fish!  Mississippi has a rich tradition of southern cooking, which includes fried catfish, along with maybe some grits and Mississippi Mud Pie.   Catfish is big business in Mississippi – more catfish is “caught” in its waters than anywhere else in America.  Actually, most Mississippi catfish are raised on farms, each of which have hundreds and hundreds of man-made catfish ponds.

You might also follow the Mississippi Blues Trail.  Mississippi has a rich history of music and is the birthplace of  “the Delta Blues.”  The Delta Blues originated from the musical traditions of African Americans living in the Mississippi Delta -  music from their African roots that was passed on from generation to generation; songs that were developed as a way to communicate with each other in the fields; and the gospel songs that became so integral to their spiritual life.

 

Want to Know More? 

Check our Mississippi state scrapbook for an industry map, state symbols and information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Do you live in Mississippi? Or, maybe you have visited Mississippi?  We want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.

  • What is your very favorite thing about Mississippi?
  • What is your favorite thing to eat?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What other special or unique facts do you want to share about your home state?

Do you have any photos of Mississippi to share? Email them to: info@grandtourkids.com. Or, post them to our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GrandTourKids

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about Mississippi.  Visit these websites to learn more:

http://www.msbluestrail.org/index.aspx

http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/kidscorner/tr_teddy.htm

http://www.belzonims.com/catfishfest.htm

http://www.visitmississippi.org/

http://www.visitthedelta.com/