Mississippi, one of the Southern states of the U.S., has a population of approximately 2.9 million and a total land area of 125,434 square kilometers (48,430 square miles). Jackson, the state’s capital, is a trading center with an industry producing electrical machinery, processed food, earthenware and glass products. Important agricultural products in the region include livestock and poultry, as well as soy beans and cotton. The state of Mississippi is also referred to as The Lost South by many East Coast Americans. This state, deep in the South of the US, is the poorest of all US states. Real GDP per capita was $24,062 in 2006 and thus at the bottom of America’s economic scale. Mississippi’s society is still dominated by the white part of the population and formed according to the rules of the old Confederation. However, Mississippi is also a state full of contrasts. Just like it was 150 years ago, the old Southern aristocracy still exists and many of them still own large plantations. The African-American plantation workers have been replaced by machines and most of their descendants live in great poverty. Like in most Southern states, some Democrats in Mississippi openly defended segregation up until the 1980s.
Mississippi was the 20th state to join the Union on December 10, 1817. Before the Civil War, the state of Mississippi was the largest cotton producer in the US. On January 9, 1861 it was the second state to secede from the Union after South Carolina. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America, was from Mississippi. Until today, this part of its history is a vital part of the state’s self-perception. One striking fact is that, in 1865, Mississippi didn’t ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which abolished slavery in all US states. It was the last state to finally ratify the amendment in 1995, which however was invalid. Due to a form error in the ratification the slavery was still official until February 2013.
The native inhabitants of present day Mississippi were the Natchez, Caddo and Chickasaw tribes. The first Europeans who came to the area were the members of Hernando de Soto’s expedition. The first European settlement, which was in the area of present day Biloxi, was French. From New Orleans onward, French colonists started to advance further into the territory that was later going to become the state of Mississippi, where it repeatedly came to hostile encounters with the Natchez. A military confrontation in 1729 led to the demise of most of the Natchez people, but also to the French leaving the territory.
In 1763, the British took control of the territory East of the Mississippi River. The southern territory still profited to a large extent from the French in New Orleans. They established the timber industry in the region, as well as livestock breeding, many kinds of fruit, rice, tobacco, indigo and a certain, valuable variety of cotton that was originally from Siam. The French also introduced the plantation system and with it slave labor, a concept they knew from their Caribbean colonies.
However, the first larger waves of settlers arrived under British rule. At first, the land was given to veterans from the French and Indian Wars. Thus, from the very beginning, settlement in the area was economically motivated and most of the settlers were people with a middle-class background. Their first city was that of Natchez. As a result of the American War of Independence, which was met with mostly disapproval by the settlers in Mississippi, the territory fell under Spanish rule. In order to stay in control of the new colony, the Spanish Crown granted the settlers lots of privileges: no taxes, a fixed (and quite high) price for the tobacco they were growing, as well as generous pieces of land for new settlers. The settlers’ reacted to this by, for the first time, buying large numbers of slaves and at the same time running up debts, relying upon the high tobacco prices.
When the tobacco subsidies were finally suspended, most settlers were suddenly facing grinding poverty. After experimenting with a number of different options for some time, they finally came up with the idea of growing cotton on a grand scale. This was going to become the basis of the Southern states’ economy. Beneficial to the success was on the one hand the invention of the Cotton Gin by Eli Whitney, and on the other hand the slave riots and racial unrest that paralyzed Santo Domingo, the primary producer at that time. Around 1800 most plantations had switched over to cotton.
The state’s flag displays (even though criticized by many) the old flag of the Confederation. Despite the fact that racial segregation has been abolished, it can still be observed in many parts of the state. At the end of August 2005, hurricane Katrina left behind massive destruction, the consequences of which will probably still be felt over many years to come.
Mississippi was the third state in the 20th century to legalize gambling again. Since 1990, the state has built up the second biggest gambling industry after Nevada. It is mainly based in Biloxi and runs down the entire gulf coast from there. Mississippi has long years of experience with illegal gambling – ever since the 1960s the so-called Dixie Mafia has been running large and flourishing casinos. The extent of illegal gambling activities in Biloxi was even greater than it was in Atlantic City. Gambling on boats has been legal since 1990 – as long as the boat is docked and floats on its own, it does not have to be seaworthy. The ships may not leave the docks. Hurricane Katrina, however, has hit the casino boat industry particularly hard and it is still trying to recover.