Created in 1870 from portions of Tippah and Tishomingo counties in the hills region, Alcorn County contained 10,431 residents at its inception. It is the smallest county by land mass in Mississippi today with 401.35 square miles. The county was named after Governor James L. Alcorn, a moderate Republican during Reconstruction in Mississippi. He briefly served as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army during the early part of the Civil War and was the second-highest ranked general to join the postwar Republican Party.
During the Civil War, the county seat of Corinth was the location where vital railroad lines crossed and the city’s capture was a prime objective of Union forces. The Siege of Corinth, also known as the First Battle of Corinth, occurred from April 29 to May 30, 1862. The Confederate Army withdrew during the night of May 29, resulting in a Union victory. Afterward, the Union-occupied town became a safe haven to thousands of runaway slaves. Union General Grenville Dodge enlisted the escaped slaves as teamsters, cooks, laborers, and armed security guards, which led to the formation of the 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment of African Descent with about 1,000 men. The camp resembled a small town and allowed runaways and freedmen, after the Emancipation Proclamation, to create a life of their own and work toward the struggle for equality. Today, the site is a national park called the Corinth Contraband Camp.
After the Civil War, the Reconstruction era legislature created the first historically black land-grant college in the United States in 1871. Alcorn College provided education and opportunity for freedmen. Now Alcorn State University, the school boasts alumni who were and are leaders in civil rights, business, medicine, and politics including Medgar Evers, Alex Haley, Horace R. Cayton Sr., Gwen Belton, Katie G. Dorsett, and Joseph Edison Walker. When protests erupted on Alcorn’s campus in the 1960s, the presidents had to shut the demonstrations down for fear of losing their jobs, since the segregationist state legislature controlled the school.
Due to the low number of African Americans in Alcorn County in the 1960s, civil rights activism remained limited. According to the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC), approximately 22,000 whites lived in the county compared to about 3,300 African Americans in 1961. County official Lloyd Coleman told the MSSC that there were no more than twenty-five African Americans qualified to vote and only about twelve of those ever voted. To monitor activism, both black and white teachers in the county signed a loyalty oath each year and listed the organizations to which they belonged over the previous five years. The MSSC also monitored the number of African Americans who paid poll taxes and other signs that could point to civil rights activism.
At various times in the 1960s, whites feared that college students and activists would come to the county from outside the state. In March 1961, reports spread that students from Yale University planned to visit Alcorn County or elsewhere in Mississippi to participate in sit-ins or demonstrations. Rumors emerged that a sit-in would occur on April 8, 1964. The MSSC gave suggestions to business leaders, law enforcement, and city and county officials on how to handle such events, but warned that most likely problems would be caused by a multiracial group outsiders. In April of 1969, Corinth leaders expressed concern over the NAACP’s revival, led by Grady Eddington, who is also reported under the name Grady Edding. Racial tensions ran high when an officer shot an African-American murder suspect named Robert Cummings on May 8. The officers claimed that Cummings swung at them with an ice pick and that they found evidence linking him to the murder. Sheriff Grady Bingham and Chief Art Murray stated that their office received several threatening phone calls and that about two hundred African Americans gathered on the night of the murder. Rumors spread that trouble was possible and that Charles Evers intended to visit Corinth. On May 21, Eddington asked to meet with Chief Murray, but postponed the meeting. No further reports have been found regarding the rumors of activism in Alcorn County.
In the 2010 census, the county had 37,057 residents, with 87.4% white, 11.1% black, 1.3% Latino or Hispanic, and less than 1% each of Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, other races, and multiracial. As of 2012, there were twenty places in the county on the National Register of Historic Places, including one National Historic Landmark for the Siege and Battle of Corinth.
“About Corinth,” Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, http://www.corinth.net/about.htm.
“Alcorn County, Mississippi,” Wikipedia, 4 May 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcorn_County,_Mississippi.
“Alcorn County, Mississippi: Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010,” American Fact Finder, http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?refresh=t.
“Alcorn County, MS,” National Association of Counties, http://www.naco.org/Counties/Pages/FindACounty.aspx.
“Corinth, Mississippi: Civil War Sesquicentennial,” Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2011, http://www.corinthcivilwar.com/.
John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, University of Illinois Press, 1995, 225.
“Sovereignty Commission Online: Alcorn County,” Mississippi Department of Archives and History, http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/imagelisting.php?foldercheckbox%5b%5d=506%7c2%7c137%7c%7c0.