50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 20. Mississippi

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

20. Mississippi

Capital: Jackson

Nickname: The Magnolia State

Motto: Virtute et Armis

(By Valor and Arms)

About the State

Before the French settlers arrived and colonised the area, Mississippi was inhabited by Native Americans from various tribes, including the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Having been part of New France, the area – as with the Louisiana Territory – then fell under Spanish, then British control in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War. Following the American Revolution, the area between the Mississippi and Chattahoochee Rivers was initially claimed by Georgia, but in 1805 they ceded the land to the Federal Government and, in 1812, the Mississippi Territory was connected to the Gulf of Mexico with the annexation of the District of Mobile – which had previously been part of West Florida. On December 10th, 1817, the western portion of the Territory became the state of Mississippi, the 20th to join the Union, while the eastern half became known as the Alabama Territory.

The state was at the centre of the cotton industry, with the land around the Delta of the Mississippi being especially fertile for the crop’s growth and demand for the crop was high from the textile companies of Britain and New England. While this encouraged rapid population growth and made Mississippi’s per capita wealth above average in the USA, it was achieved through the exploitation of African-Americans as, by 1860, more than 430,000 people – around 55% of the total residing in the state – were held as slaves. In order to defend the practice, on 9th January 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede from the Union and joined the Confederacy. There were many skirmishes fought in state during the war, most notably the Vicksburg Campaign, during which the Union forces, under General Ulysses S. Grant, captured the last section of the Mississippi River controlled by the Confederacy. The loss at Vicksburg happened within a day of the Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg and combined the events were an important turning point that led to success for the Union.

During the Reconstruction era, the first African-American to serve in Congress represented Mississippi, Senator Hiram Revels. However, for nearly 100 years following the Civil War, African-Americans in Mississippi continued to suffer disenfranchisement, racially motivated attacks – including lynchings – and segregation through Jim Crow laws. In the first part of the 20th century, the state’s economy had taken a hit from a drop in the price of cotton, boll weevil infestations that ruined crops, and severe flooding in 1912 and 1913. As a result of all these unfavourable conditions, tens of thousands of African-American moved north to cities like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis, in what was called the Great Migration. A second wave followed from the 1940s until around 1970; this time many headed west, in particular to California, in search of new opportunities.

In 1962, James Meredith became the first African-American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi, leading to riots as a white mob attacked marshals who had been deployed by President Kennedy to protect Meredith. Tensions rose two years later during what was known as the Freedom Summer, during which the Council of Federated Organizations wanted to register as many African Americans as possible to vote. In February of 1964, the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi had been founded and, in April, burned crosses in 61 locations across the state. On June 21st, Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price in Philadelphia, MS, arrested three civil rights workers, later releasing them in a deal with KKK members, who ambushed their vehicle then beat and shot James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, before burying their bodies in an earthen dam. Outrage over the incident helped President Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the FBI later indicted 19 men for the incident, though noone served more than six years in prison.

Having been the fifth wealthiest state prior to the Civil War, Mississippi now ranks last in per capita income. Cotton remains a major part of its economy – though the process is mostly mechanized nowadays – while agricultural farming and fishing are also big sectors. Gambling was legalised on Riverboat Casinos in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Mississippi River, though this industry took a hit with the impact of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in the region in 2005. Mississippi did not repeal the sale of alcohol until 1966, 33 years after the 21st Amendment was passed, overturning the 18th Amendment that introduced prohibition; the state had a ban on interracial marriages until 1987; and finally ratified the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, in 1995. It is the 32nd largest state and, with just under 3 million residents, ranks 31st in population.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 6

2008 Result: McCain 56.4% Obama 42.8%

Latest Poll: Romney +18%

Despite the fact that Mississippi ranks second in the amount it receives in Federal spending versus the amount it sends back to Washington (in 2005, it took $2.02 in spending, for every $1 it provided in federal taxes) it remains a very conservative state and one that will go to Mitt Romney in November’s ballot. In the last 12 Presidential elections, only once has a Democrat won the state – Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in Mississippi this November, as Republican Roger Wicker seeks a second term in office -after winning a special election in 2008 to replace the retiring Senator Trent Lott – against the Democratic Party’s candidate, Albert Gore (not the former VP). The seat is considered safe for the GOP and Wicker will return to the Senate for a full term.

Three of the four seats Mississippi has in the House of Representatives are controlled by the GOP, with the Democrats having 1 member of the delegation. That ratio is all but certain to continue after November, as all of the incumbents are expected to be re-elected.

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