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.
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.
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 McMillin, 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