People have lived on the land now called Mississippi for at least 12,000 years. Native Americans have lived on the land for thousands of years. Tribes in Mississippi have included the Biloxi, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez lived on the land.
In 1519 Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda became the first European to map the area, but over a hundred years later French explorer Sieur de la Salle claimed the land for France. Soon after, European settlers established the slave trade in this area. In 1798 Mississippi became a U.S. territory, and the state was admitted to the Union in 1817.
By 1838 thousands of Native Americans from this region had been forcibly removed from their homelands and relocated to land west of the Mississippi River. (The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians still lives in the state today, however.)
Mississippi became the second state to secede (or withdraw) from the Union in 1861. It later rejoined in 1870, five years after the Civil War ended. The state would remain an important battleground in the fight for civil rights, as Black Americans staged protests to gain equality throughout the 1950s and 1960s. (Learn more about the struggle for civil rights and Black history.)
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Mississippi, meaning “big river,” comes from the Ojibwe language—though Ojibwe people are not from this area. The state is named after the Mississippi River, and the Ojibway lived in northern Minnesota where the river begins.
It’s nicknamed the Magnolia State in honor of the magnolia trees that grow here.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Mississippi is a southern state bordered by Tennessee in the north, Alabama in the east, the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana in the south, and Louisiana and Arkansas in the west. The Mississippi River forms its western border. The state can be divided into two geographic regions.
The Delta, also called the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, starts at the Mississippi river and extends all the way east to the state border. This flood plain has very fertile soil that’s several feet deep.
The Gulf Coastal Plain covers most of Mississippi. In the north it includes the Red Clay Hills (with reddish-orange soil) and Holly Springs National Forest. The coastal area includes Gulf Island National Seashore, with 160 miles of maritime forests, bayous, and sandy beaches.
White-tailed deer, nine-banded armadillos, and swamp rabbits are among Mississippi’s many mammals. Birds such as bald eagles, wild turkeys, and red-bellied woodpeckers fly overhead. Southeastern five-lined skinks, Gulf crawfish snakes, and Mississippi mud turtles are some of the reptiles living here. You might also spot amphibians such as Mississippi slimy salamanders and cricket frogs in this state.
Live oak, pine, hickory, pecan, and magnolia trees are common in Mississippi. Chicory, black-eyed Susan, oxeye daisy, orange daylily, and Mississippi penstemon are among the state’s many wildflowers.
Forests cover about 65 percent of the state, and so are one of its major resources. Mississippi’s hickory and oak woods are known for their beautiful grain, so they're used in furniture and flooring. Mississippi’s super-fertile soil is another top resource, yielding soybeans, sweet potatoes, and other crops.
—Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, where his childhood home is open for tours. Other famous Mississippians include rock-and-roll pioneer Bo Diddley, blues performers Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and Muppets creator Jim Henson.
—The musical style known as the blues started in Mississippi after the Civil War. It was inspired by songs sung by slaves as they worked in the fields as well as African spirituals, which are religious songs.
—Mississippi mud pie is a lot tastier than it sounds. It’s made of chocolate with a crushed cookie crust! Simmered collared greens are another popular local dish, and boiled peanuts are a common Mississippi snack.