18 SCHOOLS in MISSISSIPPI
The name Mississippi is synonymous with struggle and endurance. Named for the river that sets its western border, Mississippi is a rich, fertile land, but it did not come easily. The first European colonies of French and Spanish settlers brought slaves to work the land, a heritage that would eventually be both Mississippi’s downfall, and its redemption. Britain would take Mississippi in the end of the French and Indian War, but would quickly have to turn it over to the newly created United States after the American Revolution. As a territory, Mississippi grew, deposing the native Choctaw Indians; those who did not remove to the Indian Territory were allowed to stay and gain US citizenship, as had the Cherokee previously – two of the only Native American tribes given that opportunity. When Mississippi became a state in 1817, the slave population was nearly a million, and cotton plantations (fueled by the slave trade and the steamboats traveling up and down the mighty Mississippi River) were the state’s main economic base. Even after the Civil War, only a tenth of the land in Mississippi was settled; the rest was wilderness.
It was the freed slaves who settled the remaining frontier, and though many of Mississippi’s African-American people would flee Jim Crow laws in the Great Migration, Mississippi still has the highest proportion of black residents of any US state – more than one-third the population. Interaction between Mississippi’s black and white artists would birth Mississippi’s greatest contribution to American culture: the blues. From formative artists like Son House and Mississippi John Hurt – whose musicianship and soul would inspire jazz – to later artist like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters – who would take the Delta Blues to the city and electrify it to provide the blueprint for rock and roll – Mississippi’s music is at the heart of American art. Mississippi even birthed the first country music star, Jimmie Rodgers, who created a new genre by fusing folk and the blues with his “blue yodels.”
Higher education came to Mississippi later than other states, primarily because Mississippi developed later than other states of the same age. However, Mississippi’s colleges and universities have come into the 21st century stronger than ever, drawing on the state’s long heritage of resilience and strength to build programs that are earning national recognition and admiration. With its colleges and universities at their best, Mississippi’s future is in good hands.