Mississippi joined the Union as the 20th state in 1817 and gets its name from the Mississippi River, which forms its western border. Early inhabitants of the area that became Mississippi included the Choctaw, Natchez and Chickasaw. Spanish explorers arrived in the region in 1540 but it was the French who established the first permanent settlement in present-day Mississippi in 1699. During the first half of the 19th century, Mississippi was the top cotton producer in the United States, and owners of large plantations depended on the labor of black slaves. Mississippi seceded from the Union in 1861 and suffered greatly during the American Civil War. Despite the abolition of slavery, racial discrimination endured in Mississippi, and the state was a battleground of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century. In the early 21st century, Mississippi ranked among America’s poorest states.
Date of Statehood: December 10, 1817
Population: 2,967,297 (2010)
Size: 48,432 square miles
Nickname(s): Magnolia State
Motto: Virtute et armis (“By valor and arms”)
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- Oliver Pollock, an Irish merchant in Spanish-controlled New Orleans who used his fortune to help finance the American Revolution, is credited with creating the dollar sign in 1778. He is buried in Pinckneyville, where he lived with his son-in-law prior to his death on December 17, 1823.
- The Blues musical form originated in the Mississippi Delta after the Civil War. Rooted in the songs sung by slaves working in the fields and African spirituals, the Blues offered an escape from oppression and a means of expression for many African Americans.
- While on a hunting expedition with Mississippi Governor Andrew Longino near Onward in November of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that had been captured and tied to a tree. Afterward, a satirical cartoon of the event was published, inspiring a Brooklyn candy shop owner to create a stuffed “Teddy’s Bear.”
- The flight school at Columbus Air Force Base trained more than 8,000 students during World War II to become flying officers in the Army Air Corps.
- Dr. James D. Hardy performed the world’s first human lung transplant at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson on June 11, 1963. On January 23, 1964, he transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee into a dying patient—performing the world’s first heart transplant surgery.
- Mississippi produces some 60 percent of America’s farm-raised catfish. Commercial catfish production began in the state in the mid-1960s. The Mississippi Delta city of Belzoni, billed as the Catfish Capital of the World, has a catfish museum and hosts an annual catfish festival.