Choctaw County

Founded in 1833, Choctaw County was created from land ceded to the United States by the Choctaw Nation and was named after the Choctaw Native Americans.  Initially, the county was 1,080 square miles and included all that is now Webster County and parts of Montgomery, Grenada, and Calhoun Counties. Today, the land area is 419.8 square miles, 99.83% of which is land. The county occupies land at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is considered an Appalachia county. In 1840, the county had a population of 6,010. The original county seat was Greensboro, which had a reputation for duels, hangings, and murders, but was mostly burned down during the Civil War. The county seat and largest town today is Ackerman, established in 1885. The next largest towns are French Camp, Mathiston, and Weir, although most of Mathiston is in Webster County to the north.

The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) monitored the events in Choctaw County beginning in 1959 and kept records of race relations and civil rights demonstrations in the area. In 1959, a number of city and county officials reported no active National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, no racial tension, and no “agitators stirring up trouble or trying to integrate the races.” Circuit Clerk W. W. Stephenson of Ackerman explained his process for discouraging African Americans from voting. He sent African Americans interested in registering to vote to the principal of the African American school, J. A. Keller, who he called “one of the very best Negroes” and “very smart and influential.” Stephenson said, “Keller always persuades the Negro that it is not in his interest to attempt to register.” Since principals were hired by white county leaders, many of them feared losing their jobs if they encouraged voter registration. In 1961, Superintendent of Education W. M. Perrigin confirmed the difficult place that teachers and school official occupied. He stated that teachers “would not do anything to endanger losing their positions as teachers by indulging in any kind of agitative activities or belonging to the NAACP.” Stephenson said in both 1959 and 1960 that there were only twenty registered African American voters and only one of them voted in the 1959 Democratic Primary. In 1960, however, many officials noted that African Americans, especially younger ones, were more demanding, but only twelve African Americans were registered to vote by 1961. In July of 1961, the MSSC placed six Rust College students from Ackerman on file for participating in boycotts in Holly Springs: Jessie M. Robinson, John H. Davis, Maudean Brown, Frederick H. Brown, Catherine Blackman, and Ervin F. Gradie. In 1962, the circuit clerk stated that no African American even attempted to register to vote in the previous year and only three or four paid their poll taxes. The MSSC only has a couple of documents on Choctaw County between 1962 and 1969.

As of the 2010 census, there were 8,547 residents in Choctaw County. At its peak in 1910, the county had 14,357 residents. In 2010, 68.4% of the population was white, 30.1% was black, 1.1% was mixed races, and .9% was Latino or Hispanic. 

Sources:

Choctaw County Chamber of Commerce, “County History,” http://choctawcountyms.com/aboutus/countyhistory/.

“Choctaw County, Mississippi,” Wikipedia, 13 February 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choctaw_County,_Mississippi.

“Sovereignty Commission Online: Calhoun County,” Mississippi Department of Archives and Historyhttp://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/imagelisting.php?foldercheckbox%5b%5d=469%7c2%7c115%7c%7c0.