The region that is now the city of Jackson was historically part of the large territory occupied by the Choctaw Nation, the historic culture of the Muskogean-speaking indigenous peoples who had inhabited the area for thousands of years before European encounter. The Choctaw name for the locale was Chisha Foka. The area now called Jackson was obtained by the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Doak's Stand in 1820, by which The United States acquired the land owned by the Choctaw Native Americans. After the treaty was ratified, American settlers moved into the area, encroaching on remaining Choctaw communal lands. One of the original Choctaw members, in 1849, described what he and his people experienced during this turbulent time when the Europeans had come to take their land. "We have had our habitations torn down and burned" as well as their "fences burned" while they themselves constantly faced personal abuse and have been "scoured, manacled and fettered."
Under pressure from the U.S. government, the Choctaw Native Americans agreed to removal after 1830 from all of their lands east of the Mississippi River under the terms of several treaties. Although most of the Choctaw moved to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, along with the other of the Five Civilized Tribes, a significant number chose to stay in their homeland, citing Article XIV of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. They gave up their tribal membership and became state and United States citizens at the time. Today, most Choctaw in Mississippi have reorganized and are part of the federally recognized Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. They live in several majority-Indian communities located throughout the state. The largest community is located in Choctaw 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Jackson.
Founding and antebellum period (to 1860)
Located on the historic Natchez Trace trade route, created by Native Americans and used by European-American settlers, and on the Pearl River, the city's first European-American settler was Louis LeFleur, a French-Canadian trader. The village became known as LeFleur's Bluff. During the late 18th century and early 19th century, this site had a trading post. It was connected to markets in Tennessee. Soldiers returning to Tennessee from the military campaigns near New Orleans in 1815 built a public road that connected Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana to this district. A United States treaty with the Choctaw, the Treaty of Doak's Stand in 1820, formally opened the area for non-Native American settlers.
LeFleur's Bluff was developed when it was chosen as the site for the new state's capital city. The Mississippi General Assembly decided in 1821 that the state needed a centrally located capital (the legislature was then located in Natchez). They commissioned Thomas Hinds, James Patton, and William Lattimore to look for a suitable site. The absolute center of the state was a swamp, so the group had to widen their search.
After surveying areas north and east of Jackson, they proceeded southwest along the Pearl River until they reached LeFleur's Bluff in today's Hinds County. Their report to the General Assembly stated that this location had beautiful and healthful surroundings, good water, abundant timber, navigable waters, and proximity to the Natchez Trace. The Assembly passed an act on November 28, 1821, authorizing the site as the permanent seat of the government of the state of Mississippi. On the same day, it passed a resolution to instruct the Washington delegation to press Congress for a donation of public lands on the river for the purpose of improved navigation to the Gulf of Mexico. One Whig politician lamented the new capital as a "serious violation of principle" because it was not at the absolute center of the state.
The capital was named for General Andrew Jackson, to honor his (January 1815) victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. He was later elected as the seventh president of the United States.
The city of Jackson was originally planned, in April 1822, by Peter Aaron Van Dorn in a "checkerboard" pattern advocated by Thomas Jefferson. City blocks alternated with parks and other open spaces. Over time, many of the park squares have been developed rather than maintained as green space. The state legislature first met in Jackson on December 23, 1822. In 1839, the Mississippi Legislature passed the first state law in the U.S. to permit married women to own and administer their own property.
Jackson was connected by public road to Vicksburg and Clinton in 1826. Jackson was first connected by railroad to other cities in 1840. An 1844 map shows Jackson linked by an east-west rail line running between Vicksburg, Raymond, and Brandon. Unlike Vicksburg, Greenville, and Natchez, Jackson is not located on the Mississippi River, and it did not develop during the antebellum era as those cities did from major river commerce. Construction of railroad lines to the city sparked its growth in the decades following the American Civil War.
American Civil War and late 19th century (1861–1900)
"Raising the Stars and Stripes Over the Capitol of the State of Mississippi", engraving from Harper's Weekly
, 20 June 1863, after the capture of Jackson by Union forces during the American Civil War
September 1863 map of the Siege of Jackson
Despite its small population, during the Civil War, Jackson became a strategic center of manufacturing for the Confederacy. In 1863, during the military campaign which ended in the capture of Vicksburg, Union forces captured Jackson during two battles—once before the fall of Vicksburg and once after the fall of Vicksburg.
On May 13, 1863, Union forces won the first Battle of Jackson, forcing Confederate forces to flee northward towards Canton. On May 15, Union troops under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman burned and looted key facilities in Jackson, a strategic manufacturing and railroad center for the Confederacy. After driving the Confederate forces out of Jackson, Union forces turned west and engaged the Vicksburg defenders at the Battle of Champion Hill in nearby Edwards. The Union forces began their siege of Vicksburg soon after their victory at Champion Hill. Confederate forces began to reassemble in Jackson in preparation for an attempt to break through the Union lines surrounding Vicksburg and end the siege. The Confederate forces in Jackson built defensive fortifications encircling the city while preparing to march west to Vicksburg.
Confederate forces marched out of Jackson in early July 1863 to break the siege of Vicksburg. But, unknown to them, Vicksburg had already surrendered on July 4, 1863. General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched General Sherman to meet the Confederate forces heading west from Jackson. Upon learning that Vicksburg had already surrendered, the Confederates retreated into Jackson. Union forces began the Siege of Jackson, which lasted for approximately one week. Union forces encircled the city and began an artillery bombardment. One of the Union artillery emplacements has been preserved on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Another Federal position is preserved on the campus of Millsaps College. John C. Breckinridge, former United States Vice President, served as one of the Confederate generals defending Jackson. On July 16, 1863, Confederate forces slipped out of Jackson during the night and retreated across the Pearl River.
Union forces completely burned the city after its capture this second time. The city was called "Chimneyville" because only the chimneys of houses were left standing. The northern line of Confederate defenses in Jackson during the siege was located along a road near downtown Jackson, now known as Fortification Street.
Because of the siege and following destruction, few antebellum structures have survived in Jackson. The Governor's Mansion, built in 1842, served as Sherman's headquarters and has been preserved. Another is the Old Capitol building, which served as the home of the Mississippi state legislature from 1839 to 1903. The Mississippi legislature passed the ordinance of secession from the Union on January 9, 1861 there, becoming the second state to secede from the United States. The Jackson City Hall, built in 1846 for less than $8,000, also survived. It is said that Sherman, a Mason, spared it because it housed a Masonic Lodge, though a more likely reason is that it housed an army hospital.
During Reconstruction, Mississippi had considerable insurgent action, as whites struggled to maintain supremacy. In 1875, the Red Shirts were formed, one of a second wave of insurgent paramilitary organizations that essentially operated as "the military arm of the Democratic Party" to take back political power from the Republicans and to drive blacks from the polls. Democrats regained control of the state legislature in 1876. The constitutional convention of 1890, which produced
Mississippi's Constitution of 1890, was also held at the capitol.
This was the first of new constitutions or amendments ratified in each Southern state through 1908 that effectively disenfranchised most African Americans and many poor whites, through provisions making voter registration more difficult: such as poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests. These provisions survived a Supreme Court challenge in 1898. As 20th-century Supreme Court decisions later ruled such provisions were unconstitutional, Mississippi and other Southern states rapidly devised new methods to continue disfranchisement of most blacks, who comprised a majority in the state until the 1930s. Their exclusion from politics was maintained into the late 1960s.
The economic recovery from the Civil War was slow through the start of the 20th century, but there were some developments in transportation. In 1871, the city introduced mule-drawn streetcars which ran on State Street, which were replaced by electric ones in 1899.
The so-called New Capitol replaced the older structure upon its completion in 1903. Today the Old Capitol is operated as a historical museum.
Early 20th century (1901–1960)
Panorama of downtown Jackson in 1910. The Old Capitol and Capitol Street can be seen at the center of the photo. The New Capitol is at the left.
April 16, 1921 flood on Town Creek, a tributary of the Pearl River in Jackson. The photo is a view of East Capitol Street looking east from North Farish Street.
Author Eudora Welty was born in Jackson in 1909, lived most of her life in the Belhaven section of the city, and died there in 2001. Her memoir of development as a writer, One Writer's Beginnings (1984), presented a picture of the city in the early 20th century. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel, The Optimist's Daughter, and is best known for her novels and short stories. The main Jackson Public Library was named in her honor, and her home has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Richard Wright, a highly acclaimed African-American author, lived in Jackson as an adolescent and young man in the 1910s and 1920s. He related his experience in his memoir Black Boy (1945). He described the harsh and largely terror-filled life most African Americans experienced in the South and in Northern ghettos such as Chicago under segregation in the early 20th century.
Jackson had significant growth in the early 20th century, which produced dramatic changes in the city's skyline. Jackson's new Union Station downtown reflected the city's service by multiple rail lines, including the Illinois Central. The railroads were among the new work opportunities for African Americans, who moved into the city from rural areas for such industrial-type jobs.
Across the street, the new, luxurious King Edward Hotel opened its doors in 1923, having been built according to a design by New Orleans architect William T. Nolan. It became a center for prestigious events held by Jackson society and Mississippi politicians. Nearby, the 18-story Standard Life Building, designed in 1929 by
Claude Lindsley, was the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world upon its completion.
Jackson's economic growth was further stimulated in the 1930s by the discovery of natural gas fields nearby. Speculators had begun searching for oil and natural gas in Jackson beginning in 1920. The initial drilling attempts came up empty. This failure did not stop Ella Render from obtaining a lease from the state's insane asylum to begin a well on its grounds in 1924, where he found natural gas. (Render eventually lost the rights when courts determined that the asylum did not have the right to lease the state's property.) Businessmen jumped on the opportunity and dug wells in the Jackson area. The continued success of these ventures attracted further investment. By 1930, there were 14 derricks in the Jackson skyline.
Mississippi Governor Theodore Bilbo stated,
it is no idle dream to prophecy that the state's share [of the oil and natural gas profits] properly safe-guarded would soon pay the state's entire bonded indebtedness and even be great enough to defray all the state's expenses and make our state tax free so long as obligations are concerned.
This enthusiasm was subdued when the first wells failed to produce oil of a sufficiently high gravity for commercial success. The barrels of oil had considerable amounts of salt water, which lessened the quality. The governor's prediction was wrong in hindsight, but the oil and natural gas industry did provide an economic boost for the city and state. The effects of the Great Depression were mitigated by the industry's success. At its height in 1934, there were 113 producing wells in the state. The overwhelming majority were closed by 1955.
Due to provisions in the federal Rivers and Harbors Act, on October 25, 1930, city leaders met with U.S. Army engineers to ask for federal help to alleviate Jackson flooding. J.J. Halbert, city engineer, proposed a straightening and dredging of the Pearl River below Jackson.
Jackson's Gold Coast
During Mississippi's extended Prohibition period, from the 1920s until the 1960s, illegal drinking and gambling casinos flourished on the east side of the Pearl River, in Flowood along the original U.S. Route 80 just across from the city of Jackson. Those illegal casinos, bootleg liquor stores, and nightclubs made up the Gold Coast, a strip of mostly black-market businesses that operated for decades along Flowood Road. Although outside the law, the Gold Coast was a thriving center of nightlife and music, with many local blues musicians appearing regularly in the clubs.
The Gold Coast declined and businesses disappeared after Mississippi's prohibition laws were repealed in 1966, allowing Hinds County, including Jackson, to go "wet". In addition, integration drew off business from establishments that earlier had catered to African Americans, such as the Summers Hotel. When it opened in 1943 on Pearl Street, it was one of two hotels in the city that served black clients. For years its Subway Lounge was a prime performance spot for black musicians playing jazz and blues.
In another major change, in 1990 the state approved gaming on riverboats. Numerous casinos have been developed on riverboats, mostly in Mississippi Delta towns such as Tunica Resorts, Greenville, and Vicksburg, as well as Biloxi on the Gulf Coast. Before the damage and losses due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state ranked second nationally in gambling revenues.
World War II and later development
During World War II, Hawkins Field in northwest Jackson was developed as a major airbase. Among other facilities and units, the
Royal Netherlands Military Flying School was established there, after Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands. From 1941, the base trained all Dutch military aircrews.
In 1949, the poet Margaret Walker began teaching at Jackson State University, a historically black college. She taught there until 1979, and founded the university's Center for African-American Studies. Her poetry collection won a Yale Younger Poets Prize. Her second novel, Jubilee (1966), is considered a major work of African-American literature. She has influenced many younger writers.
Civil rights movement in Jackson
The civil rights movement had been active for decades, particularly mounting legal challenges to Mississippi's constitution and laws that disfranchised blacks. Beginning in 1960, Jackson as the state capital became the site for dramatic non-violent protests in a new phase of activism that brought in a wide variety of participants in the performance of mass demonstrations.
In 1960, the Census Bureau reported Jackson's population as 64.3% white and 35.7% black. At the time, public facilities were segregated and Jim Crow was in effect. Efforts to desegregate Jackson facilities began when nine Tougaloo College students tried to read books in the "white only" public library and were arrested. Founded as a historically black college (HBCU) by the American Missionary Association after the Civil War, Tougaloo College helped organize both black and white students of the region to work together for civil rights. It created partnerships with the neighboring mostly white Millsaps College to work with student activists. It has been recognized as a site on the "Civil Rights Trail" by the National Park Service.
The mass demonstrations of the 1960s were initiated with the arrival of more than 300 Freedom Riders on May 24, 1961. They were arrested in Jackson for disturbing the peace after they disembarked from their interstate buses. The interracial teams rode the buses from Washington, D.C. and sat together to demonstrate against segregation on public transportation, as the Constitution provides for unrestricted public transportation. Although the Freedom Riders had intended New Orleans as their final destination, Jackson was the farthest that any managed to travel. New participants kept joining the movement, as they intended to fill the jails in Jackson with their protest. The riders had encountered extreme violence along the way, including a bus burning and physical assaults. They attracted national media attention to the struggle for constitutional rights.
After the Freedom Rides, students and activists of the Freedom Movement launched a series of merchant boycotts, sit-ins and protest marches, from 1961 to 1963. Businesses discriminated against black customers. For instance, at the time, department stores did not hire black salesclerks or allow black customers to use their fitting rooms to try on clothes, or lunch counters for meals while in the store, but they wanted them to shop in their stores.
In Jackson, shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, civil rights activist and leader of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist associated with the White Citizens' Council. Thousands marched in Evers' funeral procession to protest the killing. Two trials at the time both resulted in hung juries. A portion of U.S. Highway 49, all of Delta Drive, a library, the central post office for the city, and Jackson–Evers International Airport were named in honor of Medgar Evers. In 1994, prosecutors Ed Peters and Bobby DeLaughter finally obtained a murder conviction in a state trial of De La Beckwith based on new evidence.
During 1963 and 1964, civil rights organizers gathered local residents for voter education and voter registration. Blacks had been essentially disfranchised since 1890. In a pilot project in 1963, activists rapidly registered 80,000 voters across the state, demonstrating the desire of African Americans to vote. In 1964 they created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as an alternative to the all-white state Democratic Party, and sent an alternate slate of candidates to the national Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that year.
Segregation and the disfranchisement of African Americans gradually ended after the Civil Rights Movement gained Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. In June 1966, Jackson was the terminus of the James Meredith March, organized by James Meredith, the first African American to enroll at the University of Mississippi. The march, which began in Memphis, Tennessee, was an attempt to garner support for full implementation of civil rights in practice, following the legislation. It was accompanied by a new drive to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi. In this latter goal, it succeeded in registering between 2,500 and 3,000 black Mississippians to vote. The march ended on June 26 after Meredith, who had been wounded by a sniper's bullet earlier on the march, addressed a large rally of some 15,000 people in Jackson.
In September 1967 a Ku Klux Klan chapter bombed the synagogue of the Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, and in November bombed the house of its rabbi, Dr. Perry Nussbaum. He and his congregation had supported civil rights.
Gradually the old barriers came down. Since that period, both whites and African Americans in the state have had a consistently high rate of voter registration and turnout. Following the decades of the Great Migration, when more than one million blacks left the rural South, since the 1930s the state has been majority white in total population. African Americans are a majority in the city of Jackson, although the metropolitan area is majority white. African Americans are also a majority in several cities and counties of the Mississippi Delta, which are included in the 2nd congressional district. The other three congressional districts are majority white.
Mid-1960s to present
The first successful cadaveric lung transplant was performed at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson in June 1963 by Dr. James Hardy. Hardy transplanted the cadaveric lung into a patient suffering from lung cancer. The patient survived for eighteen days before dying of kidney failure.
In 1966 it was estimated that recurring flood damage at Jackson from the Pearl River averaged nearly a million dollars per year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $6.8 million on levees and a new channel in 1966 prior to the project completion with the aim to prevent a flood equal to the December 1961 event plus an additional foot.
Since 1968, Jackson has been the home of Malaco Records, one of the leading record companies for gospel, blues, and soul music in the United States. In January 1973, Paul Simon recorded the songs "Learn How to Fall" and "Take Me to the Mardi Gras", found on the album There Goes Rhymin' Simon, in Jackson at the Malaco Recording Studios. Many well-known Southern artists recorded on the album, including the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett), Carson Whitsett, the Onward Brass Band from New Orleans, and others. The label has recorded many leading soul and blues artists, including Bobby Bland, ZZ Hill, Latimore, Shirley Brown, Denise LaSalle, and Tyrone Davis.
On May 15, 1970, Jackson police killed two students and wounded twelve at Jackson State College after a protest of the Vietnam War included students' overturning and burning some cars. These killings occurred eleven days after the National Guard killed four students in an anti-war protest at Kent State University in Ohio, and were part of national social unrest. Newsweek cited the Jackson State killings in its issue of May 18 when it suggested that U.S. President Richard Nixon faced a new home front.
The influx of illegal drugs nationally affected Jackson as smugglers used the highways, seaports, and airports of the Gulf region. The 1980s in Jackson were dominated by Mayor Dale Danks Jr. until he was unseated by lawyer and legislator J. Kane Ditto, who criticized the deficit funding and the politicized police department of the city. Federal investigations of drug trafficking at Jackson's Hawkins Field airport were a part of the Kerry Report, the 1986 U.S. Senate investigation of public corruption and foreign relations.
As Jackson has become the medical and legal center of the state, it has attracted Jewish professionals in both fields. Since the late 20th century, it has developed the largest Jewish community in the state.
In 1997, Harvey Johnson, Jr. was elected as Jackson's first African-American mayor. During his term, he proposed the development of a convention center to attract more business to the city. In 2004, during his second term, 66 percent of the voters passed a referendum for a tax to build the Convention Center.
Mayor Johnson was replaced by Frank Melton on July 4, 2005. Melton generated controversy through his unconventional behavior, which included acting as a law enforcement officer. A dramatic spike in crime ensued during his term, despite Melton's efforts to reduce crime. The lack of jobs contributed to crime. In 2006 a young African-American businessman, Starsky Darnell Redd, was convicted of money laundering in federal court along with his mother, other associates, and Billy Tucker, the former airport security chief. Redd had been convicted in 2002 for drug trafficking $8,000,000 worth of narcotics into Jackson.
In 2007 Hinds County sheriff Malcolm McMillin was appointed as the new police chief in Jackson, setting a historic precedent. McMillin was both the county sheriff and city police chief until 2009, when he stepped down due to the disagreements with the mayor. Mayor Frank Melton died in May 2009, and City Councilman Leslie McLemore served as acting mayor of Jackson until July 2009, when former Mayor Harvey Johnson was elected and assumed the position.
On June 26, 2011, 49-year-old James Craig Anderson was killed in Jackson after being beaten, robbed, and run over by a group of white teenagers. The district attorney described it as a "hate crime", and the FBI investigated it as a civil rights violation.
On March 18, 2013, a severe hailstorm hit the Jackson metro area. The hail caused major damage to roofs, vehicles, and building siding. Hail ranged in size from golfball to softball. There were more than 40,000 hailstorm claims of homeowner and automobile damage.
In 2013, Jackson was named as one of the top 10 friendliest cities in the United States by CN Traveler. The capital city was tied with Natchez as Number 7. The city was noticed for friendly people, great food, and green and pretty public places.
On July 1, 2013, Chokwe Lumumba was sworn into office as mayor of the city. After eight months in office, Lumumba died on February 25, 2014. Lumumba was a popular yet controversial figure due to his prior membership in the Republic of New Afrika, as well as being a co-founder of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.
Lumumba's son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, ran for the mayoral seat following his father's death, but lost to Councillor Tony Yarber on April 22, 2014. In 2017, however, Chokwe Antar Lumumba ran for mayor again, and won. Following his victory, on June 26 he was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, at which time he declared a commitment to make Jackson the "Most Radical City on the Planet."