Jackson, Mississippi has a long and storied history. Having had its beginnings in the aggressive conquering of the Choctaw people of the region and subsequent treaty violations and violent removal of its people, it was built on the backs of slave labor. Named for Andrew Jackson prior to his presidency, the city’s beginnings were anything but noble. It’s location was chosen primarily as a compromise between interests in the state — being principal among them.
As a city, it remained very small due to its inconvenient location, but this positioning made it an ideal location for a command center for the confederacy, and later the union once it was conquered. Like many conquered cities of the south, it was mercilessly burned and ravaged by northern forces under the command of the notoriously brutal General William Tecumseh Sherman — the town was nicknamed “Chimneyville” for a time due to that vast plumes of smoke emanating from it during its razing.
Following the war, white nationalists and the militant arm of the Southern Democrat party, along with white supremacists groups, maintained and grew their political power in the state as a whole, and focused on keeping control of the capital city as well. They stoked feelings of resentment among the white population who were still licking their wounds from the war — and Sherman’s atrocities served as prime fodder for propaganda, true or otherwise.
Jackson remained a stronghold for white supremacists well into the 1960s, when it became a major battleground for civil rights. Mississippi had some of the harshest segregation and Jim Crow Laws on the books, and African-Americans and their allies made protesting at the capitol buildings across the south a major part of their strategy for gaining equal rights and access.
At the time, Jackson was about two-thirds white, and the vast majority of the rest of the citizens were black — most of whom could trace lineage to the slave trade. But following the Civil Rights Movement and the party realignment that resulted, white flight and the rise of suburbs combined with their bitter defeat at the hands of equal rights activists led to the demographics reversing. In fact, Jackson’s population as a whole has completely flipped to being two-thirds black now, the second largest black majority city in the nation behind only Detroit. That the capital is majority black is fitting since Mississippi has the largest percentage of African-Americans among all states.
Given that black voters tend to favor Democrats by a nearly 9-1 margin, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the GOP has controlled the state handily for the past 40 years. The reasons are myriad — low turnout among African-Americans, onerous voter ID laws reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws of the past, and general apathy among the mostly poor population in the state — Mississippi is also the poorest state in the union per capita.
Jackson itself, however, is right at the border of the dividing line between the state between east and west. The eastern part of the state is much whiter and went red, while the blacker western half is a sea of blue. Hinds County, where most of Jackson lies, went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a margin of nearly 3-1.
But racial barriers have been falling in Mississippi rapidly over the years. Much of the relative growth in the black population statewide has not been due to any major migration on either side of the racial marker, but rather due to intermarriage. In fact, Mississippi has the highest rate of interracial marriage of any other in the nation.
The population of the state as a whole, however, is growing at a very slow rate comparatively. Jackson is the state’s largest city by a wide margin, but with just over 170,000 and shrinking people it isn’t even in the top 130 nationwide. With the city’s poor location for modern industry like tech or transportation, this trend shows no signs of slowing and younger people are gravitating toward other cities in search of jobs.
It wasn’t always this way, however. Prior to the Civil War Mississippi was the fifth wealthiest state in the nation, though that wealth was built primarily on slave-farmed cotton. But Mississippi was slow to adapt to the new world and Reconstruction’s spectacular failure was felt here worse than virtually anywhere else.
While the racial lines have slowly been erased simply by being neighbors, friends, and family, the economic ones have been much slower. Mississippi has never really recovered from the war, and there are few signs it will anytime soon. Those who can leave the state are happy to do so at the first opportunity, while those who remain are determined to continue to repair what they can. Tourism fuels the economy in many areas, but natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina occur with enough regularity to make a travel economy difficult to rely on.
Resentment toward other states — especially the northern ones — is still felt here. Many feel that regardless of the reasons for the Civil War or the outcome Mississippi was so severely and unnecessarily ravaged and subsequently sabotaged politically that they were never allowed to even attempt a recovery. Putting racial politics aside and focusing just on the economics, this type of resentment and dissatisfaction is exactly the type that led to people voting for Trump both in Mississippi and beyond. Upturning the status quo — especially the old guard Democrats and the establishment Republicans — was the goal here more than anything else.
As Jackson continues to shrink and the economy continues to lag behind the rest of the nation, Mississippi as a whole will likely continue to internalize that resentment and feeling of being a conquered people rather than partners with the rest of the nation. And if the GOP continues to take them for granted, the state’s ever shrinking relative white population may join with their black friends and family in switching parties once more — only this time it may be to something other than the Democrats who they feel betrayed them decades ago.