The cultural, artistic and truly historic Mississippi heritage extends far beyond the borders of the Magnolia State.
Visit Mississippi and you'll soon discover that what makes the African American community is the people. And what makes the people is character and courage. Travel across the country and you'll encounter few people with a heritage as rich and strong as Mississippi's African Americans. You'll find more than a distinct culture here - you'll discover a legacy of enduring spirit. You'll hear it in the songs we sing and stories we tell and see it in our art. It's the saga of a people beginning in 1719, when the French brought the first African slaves here to help build the Natchez settlement.
Mississippi is from a Native American word which means “Father of Waters”. Travelers will notice interesting Native American name places scattered throughout the state, not only the name of our state, Mississippi, but also names like Yalobusha, Oktibbeha, Conehatta, Okolona, Toomsuba, Tunica, Yazoo, Pachuta, Chunky, Biloxi, and Tockshish.
The Choctaws were the most populous tribe in Mississippi, inhabiting the area for thousands of years (the other largest tribe, the Chickasaws, lived in the northern Delta and Hills region) and their influence stretched all the way to the coast. The tribe’s creation story begins near the sacred mounds of Nanih Waiya in Winston County.
Immerse yourself in Choctaw culture by attending the annual Choctaw Indian Fair held every summer in July, where the World Champion Stickball Games are held along with music, crafts or visit the Choctaw Heritage Museum on the reservation.
The Mississippi landscape is scarred from our long battle for Civil Rights. But today, over fifty years later, it has more African-American elected officials than any other state in the nation. The fruits of a generation’s toil are seen in every political contest, in every boardroom, in every school, and in every town. While the ends of such journeys may never be realized, Mississippi leads the way in opportunity and accomplishment as defined in the hopes of those men and women, young and old, who put their lives at risk in the struggle for racial justice. From Medgar Evers and Unita Blackwell has come the vision to lead; from Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer has come the courage to stand; from Robert Clark and Michael Espy has come the opportunity to prove; and from William Winter to Hodding Carter has come the commitment to decency. These heroes of uncommon strength, and the countless more who lived and died in a nation’s and certainly a state’s darkest hours, lit the brightest of flames to lead Mississippi, and us all, forward.
In 2011, Mississippi launched the Mississippi Freedom Trail to commemorate the significant people and places of the Civil Rights movement. The first marker was unveiled near Bryant’s store in Money in memory of Emmett Till.
Other sites on the Mississippi Freedom Trail thus far: Medgar Evers’s House (Jackson), Greyhound Bus Station (Jackson), Fannie Lou Hamer's Gravesite (Ruleville), Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), Jackson State University (Jackson), James Meredith (Oxford), Amzie Moore (Cleveland), and T. R. M. Howard (Mound Bayou).
At least twenty additional markers will be placed.
150 years on, the Civil War remains one of the most analyzed and debated periods in our history, its extraordinary bloodshed leading to the preservation of a nation and the emancipation of a people. Reminders of the struggle are scattered throughout Mississippi - the Corinth Contraband Camp where former slaves first breathed freedom, the rugged hills and majestic monuments of Vicksburg, the graves of unknown soldiers, and ironically the libraries of two presidents on opposing sides of the conflict, Ulysses S. Grant and Jefferson Davis…each telling a story of a time and a war of complexity, tragedy, and, ultimately, of humanity.
The battlegrounds remain. In 1862 Grant marched toward Vicksburg, knowing control of “The Gibraltar of the South” meant control of the Mississippi River; the Union’s plan thrust the people of Mississippi into the longest and most complex campaign of the entire war. In 1864, Union troops were dealt a stunning defeat by a handful of Confederates and General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Brice’s Crossroads. Apocryphal, perhaps, they say a tank commander named Rommel visited in the 1930’s, walking the battlefield and studying the brilliant tactics of his military mentor. In southeast Mississippi, a soldier rebelled against his own and a war not his, creating the Free State of Jones deep within the Confederacy.
All war is individual lives in collective tumult. The Civil War was conspicuous in Mississippi and for us all: stirring, sobering, and personal.
Mississippi heritage has left footprints throughout history, and you can relive them right here.