History of the Italians in Mississippi

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Italian farmer in the Mississippi delta in 1909
Governor Andrew Longino, an Italo-American born in New Orleans

Italians settled in the Mississippi state since colonial times.

Background[edit]

Since the 18th and mainly the 19th century, Italian people have been located in cities and towns in Mississippi. The first Italians who visited Mississippi came in explorations conducted by the French and Spanish governments. In the 19th century, many Italians entered the United States in New Orleans, Louisiana and traveled onwards to Mississippi.[1] Over 100 immigrants lived in Mississippi as the American Civil War started. In the late 19th century, Italian immigration increased in the United States.[2]

Someone of them went to work in the so-called "Mississippi Delta" in the cotton plantations, and even helped the development of the blues music with their mandolins.[3]

The late 19th century saw the arrival of larger numbers of Italian immigrants who left Italy seeking economic opportunities. Some Italians from Sicily settled as families along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Gulfport, preserving close ties with those in their homeland. They worked in the fishing and canning industries. Others were merchants, operating grocery stores, liquor stores, and tobacco shops. Biloxi’s prosperous tourist industry in the early 20th century created opportunities for ambitious young (Italian) men.......Italians also settled in the Mississippi Delta. The first immigrants came there in the 1880s, working to repair levees and staying as hired farm laborers on plantations. Some of these families became peddlers selling goods to farmers. In 1895, the first Italians came to the Sunnyside Plantation, across the Mississippi River in the Arkansas Delta. That plantation would become the stopping off place for many Italian settlers along both sides of the river. They were mostly from central Italy and experienced in farm work. Charles Reagan Wilson (University of Mississippi)

During the period of mass immigration to the United States, Italians suffered widespread discrimination in housing, social acceptance and employment.

Rioters breaking into Parish Prison. Anti-Italian lynching in 1891

The Italian Americans were often victims of prejudice, economic exploitation, and sometimes even violence, particularly in the South. And Mississippi (with nearby Louisiana) was no exception.

Indeed, Mississippi and Louisiana were to become a worldwide symbol of Anti Italianism when, in 1891, eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans were lynched due to their alleged role in the murder of the police chief David Hennessy.[4]

This was one of the largest mass lynchings in U.S. history. The lynching took place after nine of the immigrants were tried for the murder and acquitted.[5]

Indeed, nine Italians – some of whom were from the Mississippi Delta – who were thought to have assassinated police chief David Hennessy were arrested, tried, and acquitted. Subsequent to the trial, they were dragged from the jail in Parish Prison of New Orleans and lynched by a mob that had stormed the jailhouse, together with two other Italians who were being held in the jail at the time on unrelated charges.[6]

Afterwards, hundreds of Italian immigrants, most of whom were not criminals, were arrested by the police even in Mississippi.[7][8]

Furthermore, in 1899, in Tallulah, near the Mississippi border, five Italian Americans were lynched for the attempted murder of Dr. Ford Hodge. A vigilante mob hanged three shopkeepers, and two bystanders who were Italian Americans.[9] Even in Erwin, Mississippi, some Italians were killed in 1901.[10]

Actual situation[edit]

In the twentieth century, mainly after World War I, the Italians started to be accepted and integrated very well in the Mississippi society. The food and restaurant industry was one of the areas were they had their biggest results and economic success.

The seafood (and small shipyard) industry of Biloxi was owned mainly by the family of Andrew H. Longino -governor of Mississippi from 1900 to 1904- who was the first governor of a US southern State to be with Italian roots.[11]

Italians came from a Roman Catholic country, and the Catholic Church has provided huge institutional support to them all over Mississippi. The overall Catholic population in the State is relatively small, but Italians are a prominent group within many Catholic churches across all the State.

Italo Americans are nearly 2% of the State population (more than 56,000), according to the 2005 US Census.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Italians in Mississippi." Mississippi Historical Society. Retrieved on August 10, 2010.
  2. ^ Magnaghi, Russell M. "Italians." Mississippi Encyclopedia, University of Mississippi. Retrieved on August 10, 2010.
  3. ^ The "Delta Italians" and the Blues development (in Italian)
  4. ^ “An Extreme Prejudice: Anti-Italian Sentiment and Violence in Louisiana, 1855-1924”, by Alan G. Gauthreaux, History4All, Inc.
  5. ^ Moses, Norton H. Lynching and Vigilantism in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography [1]
  6. ^ Gambino, Richard. Vendetta: The True Story of the Largest Lynching in U. S. History [2]
  7. ^ Gambino, Richard. Blood of My Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian Americans [3]
  8. ^ Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America: A History
  9. ^ “The Italian Americans”, Allon Schoener, Macmillon Publishing Company, 1987
  10. ^ Erwin murders of Italians (New York Times)
  11. ^ Ethnic Heritage in the South: the Italians in Mississippi, by Walton Shana

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Canonici, Paul. The Delta Italians: their pursuit of "the better life" and their struggle against mosquitos, floods, and prejudice. Publisher P.V. Canonici. New Orleans, 2003 ISBN 0974558907
  • Magnaghi, Russell M. Louisiana’s Italian Immigrants Prior to 1870. "Louisiana History" magazine (Winter 1986), pp. 43–68.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America: a history. Publisher Basic Books. New York, 1983 ISBN 0465020755
  • Walton, Shana. Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi: The Twentieth Century. Publisher Univ. Press of Mississippi. Jackson, 2012 ISBN 161703262X

External links[edit]