Located in the southwestern part of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, Franklin County was founded in 1809 and named for Benjamin Franklin. One of Mississippi’s earliest counties, Franklin’s notable geographical features include the Homochitto River and part of the Homochitto National Forest. Towns include Meadville (the county seat, named for political, military, and financial leader Cowles Mead) and Bude and Roxie.
In the state’s first full census of 1820, Franklin County had a population of 3,821, 60 percent of them free and 40 percent enslaved. The great majority worked in agriculture, with just 38 people employed in manufacturing or commerce.
By 1840 Franklin County’s 2,699 slaves comprised 57 percent of the population, a proportion that grew slightly to 60 percent over the next two decades. By 1860 its primary agricultural product was cotton, and the county’s five manufacturing establishments employed just 23 men in lumber work and making shoes.
In 1880 Franklin County had 9,729 residents and was roughly half African American and half white. Manufacturing remained minimal, with eight firms employing 12 people. Fifty-eight percent of the county’s 1,236 farmers owned their land. Franklin was one of several Mississippi counties with high numbers of Populist voters in the 1880s and early 1890s.
In 1900 the county had a population of 13,678, divided almost evenly between African American and white residents. As in much of Mississippi, dramatic differences existed between white and black landowning. While 72 percent of white farmers owned their land, only 19 percent of black farmers did so. Most African Americans working in agriculture were tenants and sharecroppers. Novelist Richard Wright was born into a family of agricultural workers in the Roxie area, about twenty miles east of Natchez. Industry and immigration remained relatively limited. The county had only 19 foreign-born residents, and its thirty-three industrial establishments employed just 114 workers, all of them male. Most of Franklin County’s churchgoers were Baptist, with the Southern Baptist Convention dominant. The National Baptist Convention and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, also had significant numbers of adherents.
In 1930 the population had decreased slightly, and whites made up 60 percent of Franklin County residents. About half of the white farmers and 87 percent of the African American farmers worked as tenants.
By 1960 Franklin County’s population had decreased to 9,286, making it one of five counties in Mississippi with a population density of less than 20 people per square mile. Whites continued to hold the majority, but the number of people employed in furniture manufacturing now outstripped those in agriculture. Franklin also had thirty-one proven oil wells, providing the county with the third-highest mineral production value in the state.
In May 1964 members of the Ku Klux Klan in Franklin County kidnapped and murdered African Americans Charles Moore and Henry Dee. Not until 2007 was Klansman James Ford Seale convicted of one count of conspiracy and two counts of kidnapping and sentenced to three life terms. The families of Moore and Dee filed a civil lawsuit against Franklin County, stating that the county sheriff and one of his deputies had collaborated with the Klan to cover up the murders. Franklin County settled with the families in 2010.
Like many counties in or near the Mississippi Delta, Franklin’s population decreased between 1960 and 2010, when it reached 8,118, with 65 percent of its residents white.
- Mississippi State Planning Commission, Progress Report on State Planning in Mississippi (1938)
- Mississippi Statistical Abstract, Mississippi State University (1952–2010)
- National Public Radio, “Miss. Officials Agree to Settlement in ’64 Slaying” website, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127991862
- Charles Sydnor and Claude Bennett, Mississippi History (1939)
- University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser website, http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu
- E. Nolan Waller and Dani A. Smith, Growth Profiles of Mississippi’s Counties, 1960–1980 (1985)