Holmes County, Mississippi

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Holmes County, Mississippi
Holmes County Courthouse.jpg
Holmes County Courthouse
Map of Mississippi highlighting Holmes County
Location in the state of Mississippi
Map of the United States highlighting Mississippi
Mississippi's location in the U.S.
Founded 1833
Named for David Holmes
Seat Lexington
Largest city Durant
 • Total 765 sq mi (1,981 km2)
 • Land 757 sq mi (1,961 km2)
 • Water 7.9 sq mi (20 km2), 1.0%
 • (2010) 19,198
 • Density 25/sq mi (10/km²)
Congressional district 2nd
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Holmes County is a county in the U.S. state of Mississippi; its western border is formed by the Yazoo River. The western part of the county is within the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. As of the 2010 census, the population was 19,198.[1] Its county seat is Lexington.[2] The county is named in honor of David Holmes, territorial governor and the first governor of the state of Mississippi.[3]

In the years after the Civil War, freedmen acquired land in the Delta by clearing and selling timber, but many lost their land during hard times in the early 20th century, becoming tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Cotton was a commodity crop. Largely rural and agricultural, the county had steep population declines from 1940 to 1970, during the second wave of the Great Migration, as African Americans migrated out of the Deep South to areas with greater opportunity, particularly West Coast cities.

African Americans reacquired land in the 1940s. By 1960, Holmes County still had 800 independent black farmers who owned 50% of the land, more such farmers than in any other county in the state.[4] These farmers became integral members of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. In 1967, eight of ten black candidates to run for local office in the county for the first time since Reconstruction were farmers. Robert G. Clark, a teacher in Holmes County, was the only black elected as state representative that year and the first since Reconstruction; he served as the only African American in the state house until 1976. He continued to be re-elected to the state legislature into the 21st century and, in the late 20th century, was elected to the first of three terms as Speaker of the House.


The western portion of the county is located within the Mississippi Delta, and it was developed for cotton plantations in the antebellum era before the American Civil War. But the majority of the county was nearly frontier. Due to the plantation economy, the county was majority black before the Civil War, as enslaved African Americans were used to cultivate and process the cotton.

"According to U.S. Census data, the 1860 Holmes County population included 5,806 whites, 10 “free colored” and 11,975 slaves. By the 1870 census, the white population had increased about 6% to 6,145, and the “colored” population had increased about 10% to 13,225."[5] After the war, many freedmen and white migrants developed the bottomlands behind the riverfront properties, clearing and selling timber in order to acquire their own lands. Workers were also attracted to the area by higher than usual wages on the Delta plantations, which had a labor shortage.

By the turn of the 20th century, a majority of the landowners in the Delta counties were black. Disenfranchisement of blacks after 1890 and loss of political power added to their economic problems associated with the financial Panic of 1893; unable to gain credit, many of the African-American landowners lost their properties by 1920. In this period, they were also competing for land with the better-funded timber and railroad companies. In the early years of the 20th century, many of these landowners and their descendants became sharecroppers or tenant farmers.[6][7]

White planters continued to recruit labor, with the first Chinese laborers entering the Delta in the late 1870s. From 1900-1930, additional Chinese immigrant workers arrived in Mississippi, including some to Holmes County. They worked hard to leave field labor and often became merchants in the small Delta towns; as their socioeconomic status changed, they carved out a niche "between black and white", suing to gain admission to white schools for their children. After being concentrated in the Delta, most moved to larger cities after the decline of small towns through the 20th century. In Mississippi, the number of ethnic Chinese has increased overall in the state through 2010, although it is still small in total - fewer than 5,000.

During the New Deal, the Roosevelt administration worked through the Farmers Home Administration to provide low-interest loans in order to increase black land ownership. In Holmes County, numerous blacks became landowners through this program in the 1940s. They were fiercely independent and were among strong supporters of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, even as whites kept a grip on economic and political power through banks, police and the county courthouse.[8]

Beginning in the World War II period, the population of Holmes County declined markedly from its peak of 1940; through 1970 thousands of African Americans left to seek work on the West Coast or in Midwestern cities in the second wave of the Great Migration. From 1950 to 1960, for instance, some 6,000 blacks left the county,[9] a decline of nearly 19%. But in 1960 the county was 72% black, with a total population of 27,100.[9]

Even with these problems, in 1960 Holmes County had more independent black farmers than any other county in the state: 800 black farmers owned 50% of the land in the county.[4] They were among those who initiated the civil rights movement, particularly farmers of Mileston. They invited organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to come to Mileston to help them take action. Landowners were the majority of the first fourteen blacks who attempted to register to vote on April 9, 1963.[8] Holmes County became the site of renewed organizing of grassroots efforts for African-American civil rights, with people designated as responsible for its Beats and precincts.[9]

The Freedom Democratic Party was organized in 1964 to work on black voter registration and education, and continued after passage of civil rights laws. For instance, where white Democratic Party officials had defined the very large Lexington precinct, the county chapter of the FDP organized its own sub-precincts in it in order to communicate better with its community.[9] The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were important but had to be implemented on the local level.

While legally racial discrimination was to be ended in voter registration and electoral practices, the FDP took on the responsibility to register black voters and encourage them to vote, as well as work on community issues countywide. In 1966 many communities concentrated on setting up the new federal Head Start program for young children. The FDP continued to work with other communities on correcting unfair hiring at factories and administration of welfare, as well as trying to end discrimination at eating places.[10] From 1966 on, the FDP registered an increasing number of black voters and gained their participation in elections.

In 1967 black farmers who had been part of the Movement since the early 1960s made up eight of ten candidates to run for local office in the county: T.C. Johnson, Ed McGaw, Jr., Ward Montgomery, John Malone, Willie James Burns, John Daniel Wesley, Griffin McLaurin and Ralthus Hayes.[4] Robert G. Clark (born 1928) and Robert Smith, both teachers, had joined the Movement in 1966 and ran for state representative and county sheriff, respectively. Clark was a member of a landowning family in the Ebenezer Community; he won as the first and only black elected in 1967 to the Mississippi House of Representatives. By 2000, he had been re-elected to eight four-year terms in the state house and had been elected as Speaker three times since 1992.[11] In the 1967 election, McLaurin was elected as constable.[4] It was not until 1976 that another African American was elected to the state legislature, but then the number increased. They were elected to local offices before that.

Whites have also left the county since the mid-20th century because of declining opportunity. Agribusinesses have bought up large tracts of land. By 2010, the total population was less than half that of 1940. Still largely rural, Holmes County in the 21st century has problems associated with poverty and limited access to health care; it has the lowest life expectancy of any county in the United States, for both men and women.[12]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 765 square miles (1,980 km2), of which 757 square miles (1,960 km2) is land and 7.9 square miles (20 km2) (1.0%) is water.[13]

Major highways[edit]

Adjacent counties[edit]

National protected areas[edit]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1840 9,452
1850 13,928 47.4%
1860 17,791 27.7%
1870 19,370 8.9%
1880 27,164 40.2%
1890 30,970 14.0%
1900 36,828 18.9%
1910 39,088 6.1%
1920 34,513 −11.7%
1930 38,534 11.7%
1940 39,710 3.1%
1950 33,301 −16.1%
1960 27,096 −18.6%
1970 23,120 −14.7%
1980 22,970 −0.6%
1990 21,604 −5.9%
2000 21,609 0.0%
2010 19,198 −11.2%
Est. 2014 18,459 [14] −3.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[15]
1790-1960[16] 1900-1990[17]
1990-2000[18] 2010-2013[1]

From 1940 until 1970, the county had major declines in population as many blacks left the state in the Great Migration. Whites have also left as opportunities have been limited in the rural county. As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 19,198 people residing in the county, less than half than at the peak in 1940. 83.4% were Black or African American, 15.6% White, 0.2% Asian, 0.1% Native American, 0.1% of some other race and 0.6% of two or more races. 0.7% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).

As of the census[19] of 2000, there were 21,609 people, 7,314 households, and 5,229 families residing in the county. The population density was 29 people per square mile (11/km²). There were 8,439 housing units at an average density of 11 per square mile (4/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 78.66% Black or African American, 20.47% White, 0.12% Native American, 0.15% Asian, 0.07% from other races, and 0.52% from two or more races. 0.90% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

According to the census[19] of 2000, the largest ancestry groups that residents of Holmes County identified were African 78.66%, English 11.4%, and Scots-Irish 5%.

There were 2,314 households out of which 11.00% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 24.10% were married couples living together, 21.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 18.50% were non-families. 16.30% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.86 and the average family size was 3.48.

In the county the population was spread out with 32.10% under the age of 18, 12.40% from 18 to 24, 24.80% from 25 to 44, 18.30% from 45 to 64, and 12.40% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 87.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.30 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $17,235, and the median income for a family was $21,757. Males had a median income of $23,720 versus $17,883 for females. The per capita income for the county was $10,683. About 35.90% of families and 41.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 52.30% of those under age 18 and 36.40% of those age 65 or over.

Holmes County has the third lowest per capita income in Mississippi and the 41st lowest in the United States.


During and following the Reconstruction era in the 19th century, African Americans had initially supported the Republican Party, which achieved emancipation of slaves and granted freedmen full citizenship and constitutional rights. Following the effective disenfranchisement of blacks in 1890 by the state's new constitution with restrictions on voter registration, blacks were excluded from politics in Mississippi, and other southern states repeated this pattern. But the Republican Party retained some influence, and people struggled to control it in each southern state.[20]

Perry Wilbon Howard (born in Ebenezer in 1877) was one of about two dozen African-American attorneys among the second generation in the state. After passing the bar, he set up a practice in the capital of Jackson, where he worked for about 15 years. Active in the Republican Party, he was a delegate to national conventions from 1912 to 1960, representing his constituents to the national party. Although he moved to Washington, DC, where he was partner in a prominent black law firm, Howard was elected as Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi in 1924, and retained control of this position (and patronage appointments) until 1960. He was appointed in 1923 to a national position in the Office of the Attorney General in the administration of Warren G. Harding, retaining it until resigning under President Herbert Hoover in 1928.[20]

Presidential election results
Year GOP DEM Others
2008 18.0% 1,714 81.4% 7,765 0.7% 64
2004 23.4% 1,961 75.9% 6,366 0.7% 56
2000 26.1% 1,937 73.4% 5,447 0.5% 38
1996 24.0% 1,536 73.6% 4,720 2.4% 155
1992 28.2% 1,694 68.0% 4,092 3.8% 228
1988 33.7% 2,737 65.8% 5,350 0.5% 39
1984 35.4% 3,102 64.4% 5,641 0.1% 10
1980 32.3% 2,693 65.5% 5,463 2.2% 180
1976 33.8% 2,438 64.1% 4,616 2.1% 149
1972 47.2% 3,158 51.7% 3,459 1.0% 69
1968 7.0% 520 52.4% 3,881 40.6% 3,008
1964 96.6% 3,115 3.4% 110 0.0% 0
1960 17.7% 455 24.5% 628 57.8% 1,484

Since the civil rights years and gains of enforcement in voting rights in the late 1960s, the majority of Holmes' African-American voters, who constitute a majority of population in the county, have since voted strongly for Democratic candidates in Presidential and Congressional elections. The last Republican presidential candidate to win a majority in the county was Barry Goldwater in 1964, at a time when nearly all African Americans in the county and state were still disenfranchised by the state's constitution and discriminatory practices. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won 81% of the county's vote, as seen by the table to the right.

In this same period Southern whites have largely shifted to the Republican Party, so political alliances have totally realigned. Since the late 20th century, they have been opposite to the relative political affiliations of these ethnic groups following the Civil War and through the early part of the 20th century.

Holmes is part of Mississippi's 2nd congressional district, which is represented by Democrat Bennie Thompson.


In the majority-black Delta during the period of integration of public schools in the late 1960s, many white parents enrolled their children in private segregation academies, as in Holmes County. But statewide most white children remained in public schools.[21] In Holmes County, blacks had become well-organized, but in other areas they lost control of their schools, with administrations often dominated by whites, resulting in different problems during and after integration.[22]

  • Public Schools
    • Durant Public School District
      • Durant Public School
    • Holmes County School District (Lexington)
      • Holmes County Central High School
      • S.V Marshall Middle School
      • Goodman-Pickens Elementary School
      • Lexington Elementary School
      • S.V. Marshall Elementary School
      • Williams-Sullivan Elementary School
      • The Learning Center
      • Vocational-Technical Center

Pillow Academy in unincorporated Leflore County, near Greenwood, enrolls some students from Holmes County.[26] It originally was founded as a segregation academy.[27]


The county newspaper is the Holmes County Herald. It was established in 1959 as the weekly paper of the county chapter of the White Citizens Council in the early years of the civil rights movement,[4] to compete with The Lexington Advertiser owned by local publisher Hazel Brannon Smith. She was eventually forced out of the business by boycotts of her newspapers and the firebombing of one paper in Jackson, Mississippi.

The Herald published the names of African Americans who took action for civil rights in order to bring economic and political pressure against them. For instance, in April 1963 it published interviews and the names of 14 blacks who attempted to register to vote at the county courthouse in Lexington. The county circuit clerk published the names weekly of persons who tried to register to vote, thus identifying them for reprisals.[4] The Herald was bought by an independent person in 1970.




Unincorporated communities[edit]

Notable people[edit]

  • Robert G. Clark, Jr., teacher and coach, in 1967 elected as the first African American to the state legislature since Reconstruction; he was elected to eight consecutive four-year terms and as Speaker in 1992, 1996 and 2000[11]
  • Perry Wilbon Howard, attorney and Republican Party National Committeeman, was appointed to a national position in Department of Justice in the administration of President Warren G. Harding, serving into the tenure of Herbert Hoover.
  • Hazel Brannon Smith, publisher and journalist, in 1935 purchased The Durant News and The Lexington Advertiser; won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for her editorials, the same year her paper, The Northside Reporter in Jackson, was firebombed, and she was forced out of business due to a boycott of her newspapers. The White Citizens Council founded a newspaper in Holmes County to compete with her.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 159. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Sue (Lorenzi) Sojourner, "Got to Thinking: How the Black People of Holmes Co., Mississippi Organized Their Civil Rights Movement", Praxis International, Exhibit, Duluth, MN
  6. ^ John Otto Solomon, The Final Frontiers, 1880–1930: Settling the Southern Bottomlands, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999, p.50
  7. ^ John C. Willis, Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000
  8. ^ a b Map: Holmes County, Mississippi, The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights, One Person/One Vote website, 2015, Duke University, accessed 10 June 2015
  9. ^ a b c d Sue-Henry Lorenzi, "Holmes County Freedom Democratic Party Executive Members' Handbook," August 1966, Southern Freedom Movement Documents 1951-1968/ Listed by Kind of Document, Civil Rights Movement Veterans website
  10. ^ Sue (Lorenzi) Sojourner and Cheryl Reitan, Thunder of Freedom: Black Leadership and the Transformation of 1960s Mississippi, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. ISBN 0813140935
  11. ^ a b "Robert G. Clark, 26 October 2000 (video)", The Morris W. H. (Bill) Collins Speaker Series, Mississippi State University, accessed 10 June 2015
  12. ^ "Life expectancy in U.S. trails top nations". CNN. 16 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  15. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  20. ^ a b Neil R. McMillen, "Perry W. Howard, Boss of Black-and-Tan Republicanism in Mississippi, 1924-1960", The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 48, No. 2 (May, 1982), pp. 205-224 at JSTOR (subscription required)
  21. ^ Bolton (2005), The Hardest Deal of All, p. 109
  22. ^ Bolton (2005), The Hardest Deal of All, pp. 178-179
  23. ^ Bolton, Charles C. The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980. University Press of Mississippi, 2005, p. 136. ISBN 1604730609, 9781604730609
  24. ^ Cobb, James Charles. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0195089138, 9780195089134.
  25. ^ "Contact Us." Central Holmes Christian School. Retrieved on March 23, 2013. "130 Robert E. Lee Street Lexington, MS 39095"
  26. ^ "Profile of Pillow Academy 2010-2011." Pillow Academy. Retrieved on March 25, 2012.
  27. ^ Lynch, Adam (18 November 2009). "Ceara’s Season". Jackson Free Press. Retrieved 19 August 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Charles E. Cobb, Jr. On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail (2008)
  • Jan Whitt, Burning Crosses and Activist Journalism: Hazel Brannon Smith and the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (2009)
  • Charles Reagan Wilson, "Chinese in Mississippi: An Ethnic People in a Biracial Society," Mississippi History Now, November 2002

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°07′N 90°05′W / 33.12°N 90.09°W / 33.12; -90.09