Stay in Mississippi long enough, and you’ll hear folks refer to a time ‘when cotton was king.’ That time dates back at least to 1860, when Mississippi was the country’s leading cotton producer and one of the 10 wealthiest states. The Civil War wrecked Mississippi’s economy, and reconstruction was traumatic. And the state’s racist history – from slavery through the Civil Rights era – has left deep scars. (One of the most famous incidents came in 1962, when violence erupted as student James Meredith became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi.)
Today, though still a poor state, people have come to realize that the blues – one of America’s richest and most distinctive art forms – are worth celebrating. And that Mississippi has been disproportionately blessed with literary luminaries. And so the state has developed a tourist industry revolving around its proud cultural history, as well as its waterfront casinos.
After the war Mississippi abolished slavery but refused to ratify the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, and in Mar., 1867, under the Congressional plan of Reconstruction, it was organized with Arkansas into a military district commanded by Gen. E. O. C. Ord. After much agitation, a Republican-sponsored constitution guaranteeing basic rights to blacks was adopted in 1869. Mississippi was readmitted to the Union early in 1870 after ratifying the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and meeting other Congressional requirements.
While Republicans were in power, the state government was composed of new immigrants from the North, blacks, and cooperative white Southerners. A. K. Davis became the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor in 1874. The establishment of free public schools was a noteworthy aspect of Republican rule. As former Confederates were permitted to return to politics and former slaves were increasingly intimidated, the Democrats regained strength. The Republicans were defeated in the bitter election of 1875. Lucius Q. C. Lamar figured largely in the Democratic triumph and was the state’s most prominent national figure for many years.