Clay County, founded in 1872, is made up of many small communities and its only incorporated city, West Point, which is also the county seat. West Point, known for being the hometown of blues musician Howlin’ Wolf, has also had a rich history of civil rights activity. West Point was a stronghold of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Two SNCC workers, John Buffington and Eddie Brooks, organized the voter registration efforts, involving local young people like Terry Williams. Terry, who would later marry John Buffington, would continue her civil rights work as an anthropologist and oral historian.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was also active in Clay County. The Clay County Chapter of the NAACP was chartered by local John Jackson, who was central to the desegregation of West Point City School System in 1969. John Jackson and John Buffington were also both involved in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
One notable event of the civil rights movement in Clay County was the boycott of white merchants in West Point. The boycott began with the local Kroger grocery store, whose managers refused to hire black employees. About 300 people were arrested and put on trial for protesting at the store.
As of the census of 2000, there were 21,979 people residing in Clay County. There were 8,152 households and 5,885 families. Of these, 42.82% were White, 56.33% Black or African American, 0.05% Native American, 0.16% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.21% from other races, and 0.42% from two or more races. 0.86% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race. Clay’s major highways consist of U.S. Highway 45, Mississippi Highway 25, Mississippi Highway 46, Mississippi Highway 47, Mississippi Highway 50.