Exploring the Unique Social Aspects of Southern Mississippi

The rural upper bourgeoisie in Southern Mississippi was a small part of the total society. Ordinary people, from small landowners to slaves, built their own houses in their own fashion. During World War II, 1.6 million Southerners moved north and west or joined the military, with a third of them being African-Americans. Northerners played a major role in the development of the South, from forging plows to break the land to building steamboats to transport crops and buying the final product.

Eudora Welty's stories of Southern family life capture the Southern sense of place that is so often associated with Southern writers. Slaves had some autonomy in their private family life, relationships with each other, and religious practices, despite being closely supervised by their masters. The use of New Deal social engineering such as the Resettlement Administration (RA) and Agricultural Security Administration (FSA) in the lower Mississippi River Delta led to the establishment of agrarian communities in Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri Bootheel, providing public housing, access to health care and stores. Mississippi is an archaeological term used to describe pre-European contact societies of Indians that inhabited the fertile river valleys of Tennessee, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers in what is now the southeastern United States. In South Louisiana, Cajuns lived in family groups on prairies called coves and informal camps consisting of a hut or cabin served as escapes for hunting, fishing and relaxation.

Tragedy and melodrama are popular genres in Southern literature, with kinship and family being important themes in Delta literature. The upper bourgeoisie built Greek Renaissance mansions and furnished them with art objects, excellent books and fine furniture while teaching their children social graces and the arts. Hospitality became an art form in itself. The failure of many southern states to enforce voter registration provisions of the Civil Rights Act led to civil rights demonstrations, one of the most notable taking place in Alabama. Steamboats sailing up the river from New Orleans helped spread goods throughout the southern and western confines of the United States to the east, both economically and culturally. The Delta covers 35,000 square miles from southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, encompassing 219 counties in seven states and 8.3 million people.

In the 1950s Cubans moved to New Orleans while Vietnamese migrated to South Louisiana in the 1970s to become shrimp farmers. Although their presence was short-lived, Spanish culture left its mark on life at the southern end of the Delta. Populations of French descent still live in southern Illinois and Missouri in communities such as Prairie du Rocher, Kaskaskia and Ste. Genevieve. Slavery remained a vital element of Southern society until 1808 when it was abolished by the Constitution of the United States. The unique social aspects of Southern Mississippi are varied and fascinating.

From small landowners to slaves building their own homes to steamboats transporting goods throughout the south, this region has a rich history that has shaped its culture today. The use of New Deal social engineering programs provided public housing and access to health care for many people living in this area. The Delta region is home to many different cultures including Cajuns, Vietnamese shrimp farmers, Spanish settlers, French populations and African-Americans who were affected by civil rights demonstrations during this time period. Despite its turbulent past, Southern Mississippi has managed to maintain its sense of place through literature, hospitality and art.

Abby Parrett
Abby Parrett

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