The region of Neshoba County and the surrounding counties was the heart of the Choctaw Nation from the 17th century until the removal of most of the people in the 1830s. European-American settlers began to arrive in numbers in the early decades of the nineteenth century, after French, British and Spanish traders developed business relationships with the Choctaw.
Philadelphia is incorporated as a municipality; it was given its current name in 1903, two years before the railroad brought new opportunities and prosperity to the town. The history of the town and its influences- social, political and economic- can be seen in the many points of interest within and beyond the city limits. These range from the large ceremonial Indian mound and cave at Nanih Waiya, built approximately 1700 years ago and sacred to the Choctaw; to the still thriving Williams Brothers Store, a true old-fashioned general store founded in 1907 and featured in National Geographic in 1939 as a source of anything from "needles to horse collars", and still offering everything from bridles, butter and boots to flour, feed and fashion.
Many thousands of years ago, Paleo-Indians lived in what today is referred to as the American South. The Native American Choctaw people are descended from the Mississippian and other societies in the Mississippi river valley encountered by Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. The Choctaw arose as a distinct people in the early 17th century and had trade relations with the French, British and Spanish during the colonial period.
After the United States victory in the American Revolutionary War, Choctaw lands Alabama and Mississippi were encroached on by European-American settlers. Trying to create a boundary, they ceded land in several treaties with the United States, but settlers kept arriving in their territory. By 1830, after passage of the Indian Removal Act, the Choctaw were forced to choose between removal to west of the Mississippi River, or becoming U.S. citizens and submitting to federal and state laws in Mississippi. Choctaw chiefs realized that removal was inevitable and had decided that military resistance was futile.
Greenwood LeFlore, elected the Principal Chief of all three divisions that year, negotiated and signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in an effort to get the best arrangements for the Choctaw that he could. They were granted the largest amount of land in Indian Territory, in the fertile southeast, in exchange for ceding the remainder of their traditional homeland in Mississippi and Alabama.
They also were granted the option of remaining on reserved land in Mississippi as United States citizens, but the government did not give them all the land that they believed they deserved. The treaty represented one of the largest transfers of land that was signed between the US government and Native Americans without being instigated by warfare. The migration became known as the Choctaw Trail of Tears.
Murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner
In the mid-20th century, Mississippi was a battleground of the civil rights movement as, like other states of the South, it had long disfranchised blacks and subjected them to racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. Philadelphia in June 1964 was the scene of the murders of activists James Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Meridian, Mississippi; Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old Jewish anthropology student from New York City; and Michael Schwerner, a 24-year-old Jewish CORE organizer and former social worker, also from New York. Their deaths demonstrated the risks that activists took to secure the constitutional rights of African Americans, but many more blacks than whites had been killed in the struggle.
Ku Klux Klan members (including Cecil Price, the deputy sheriff of Neshoba County) released the three young men from jail, took them to an isolated spot, and killed them, then buried them in an earthen dam. It was some time after they disappeared before the bodies were discovered, as a result of an FBI investigation and national media attention. The national outrage over their deaths helped procure support for Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The murders and related conspiracy gave rise to the "Mississippi Burning" trial, United States v. Price.
On August 3, 1980, Ronald Reagan gave his first post-convention speech at the Neshoba County Fair after being officially chosen as the Republican nominee for President of the United States. He said, "I believe in states' rights ... I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment." He went on to promise to "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them".
Dupree's record breaker
Marcus Dupree played high school football for the Philadelphia High School Tornadoes from 1978 to 1981. He was an outstanding athlete who was widely recognized for his achievements. Dupree scored 87 touchdowns total during his playing time in high school, breaking the record set by Herschel Walker by one. In 1981, Marcus's final High School football game was played at Warriors Stadium of the tribal high school at the Choctaw Indian Reservation. The author Willie Morris described the audience at Dupree's final high school game as "the most distinctive crowd I had ever seen ... four thousand or so people seemed almost an equal of mix of whites, blacks, and Indians ... "
On April 27, 2011, the town and surrounding areas were ravaged during the 2011 Super Outbreak when an EF5 tornado with winds of up to 205 MPH carved a path through town. Despite its incredible strength at the top of the Enhanced-Fujita Scale, only three people died as a result. It would be one of four EF5 tornadoes to strike on that day, and one of two in the state of Mississippi (the town of Smithville further North was decimated a short while later). It also became the first F5/EF5 tornado to strike in Mississippi in 45 years.
Trial of Edgar Ray Killen
In 2004, the Hinds County sheriff, Malcolm MacMillan, called for re-opening of the case against Edgar Ray Killen, a suspect in the murder of the three civil rights workers in 1964. Killen was arrested for three counts of murder on January 6, 2005. He was freed on bond.
The trial began on June 13, 2005, with Killen attending in a wheelchair. He was found guilty of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, 41 years to the day after the crime. The jury of nine whites and three blacks rejected the charges of murder, but found him guilty of recruiting the mob that carried out the killings. He was sentenced on June 23, 2005 by Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon to the maximum sentence of 60 years in prison, 20 years for each count of manslaughter, to be served consecutively. He would have been eligible for parole after serving at least 20 years, although it was unlikely he would live as long as this, given his age and health; he died in 2018. At the sentencing, Judge Gordon stated that each life lost was valuable; he strongly asserted that the law made no distinction of age for the crime and that the maximum sentence should be imposed. Killen entered the Mississippi Department of Corrections system on June 27, 2005.
First black mayor
In May 2009, Philadelphia elected its first black mayor, James A. Young, a 53-year-old Pentecostal preacher and a former county supervisor. He defeated Rayburn Waddell, a white, three-term incumbent, by 46 votes in the Democratic primary (there was no Republican challenger). Jim Prince, publisher of the local
The Neshoba Democrat newspaper said, "Philadelphia will always be connected to what happened here in 1964, but the fact that Philadelphia, Mississippi, with its notorious past, could elect a black man as mayor, it might be time to quit picking on Philadelphia, Mississippi." Young's campaign staff credited Barack Obama's presidential campaign for increasing registration of black and young voters in Philadelphia, many of whom voted for Young. His term began July 3, 2009.
Philadelphia, Mississippi seen from the east end of town.
Philadelphia - Neshoba County Library