Founded in 1852, Calhoun County is located in the hills region of Mississippi. The county was named after South Carolina Senator and United States President John C. Calhoun, who supported states’ rights, nullification, free trade, and limited government. He is known for his support of slavery under the premise that it was a positive institution. The 1860 census records the county’s population as 9,518. The county seat is Pittsboro, although the towns of Bruce, Calhoun City, Derma, and Vardaman are larger. The county has a total of 588 square miles, 99.76% of which is land.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) investigated Calhoun County beginning in 1959. Between 1959 and 1960, law enforcement reported that only 8 or 10 African Americans were registered to vote, that there were no potential agitators in the county, and that there was no known local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter. The first report of an NAACP meeting in Calhoun County emerged in April of 1961. Local officials tracked a car parked near the meeting to African-American Taylor Ford of New Albany, Mississippi. Their investigation of him concluded that he was “a dead beat, sham, and panderer” who killed at least one other black person. In October, Ford created the Southern Improvement Council in defense of racial pride and separatism. The organization, based out of Grenada, Mississippi, sent letters to the Calhoun County community stating, “It’s part of God’s program that every race or nation is to have its own language and society.” In 1962, a half-Native American half-white man named W. C. McInnis claimed the local NAACP offered to buy his land, but the MSSC concluded that he was a troublemaker who started the rumor to get a white person to quickly buy the land for a good price.
In 1963, county officials claimed there were harmonious race relations, no voter discrimination, and no racial agitation, but in 1964 rumors spread that African Americans formed an organization dedicated to violating white women. It seems that the rumors were untrue. The MSSC’s first evidence of civil rights demonstrations emerged on January 27, 1967, although county officials reassured the MSSC that it was a false report. The report explains that African Americans quietly demanded that Calhoun City merchants offer more employment opportunities before the Christmas holidays and that most business owners complied, but that a group called the “Defenders” or “Black Hats” worked with James Dorsey, head of the local NAACP, to organize a boycott anyway. When investigators visited Calhoun City, they found no evidence of a boycott or a person named James Dorsey. The investigators suggested that they perhaps got the correct information but for the wrong county. It is possible that the boycott occurred in Claiborne County, where James Dorsey was the president of the NAACP. In 1969, Calhoun County created a Head Start program in Pittsboro for African American children, but the MSSC feared that the Parent-Teacher Association would become a place for activism and organization. No further information has been found on civil rights and race relations in Calhoun County at this time.
As of the 2010 census, Calhoun County’s population was 14,962. In 2000, the racial makeup of the county was 69.4% white, 28.7% black, 2.1% Hispanic or Latino, and less than 1% each of Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander. About 18.1% of the population was below the poverty line and the median income for a household was $27,113. As of July 2009, the population of the county was 82% rural and 18% urban.
“Calhoun County, MS,” National Association of Counties, http://www.naco.org/Counties/Pages/FindACounty.aspx.
“Calhoun County, Mississippi (MS),” City-Data.com, http://www.city-data.com/county/Calhoun_County-MS.html.
“John C. Calhoun,” Wikipedia, 12 September 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._Calhoun.
“Sovereignty Commission Online: Calhoun County,” Mississippi Department of Archives and History, http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/imagelisting.php?foldercheckbox%5b%5d=471%7c2%7c117%7c%7c0