Founded in 1867 in Washington, D.C., by Minnesota farmer Oliver H. Kelley and six friends, the Grange, also known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, was the first US national organization of farmers. A fraternal organization similar to the Masons, with secret rituals and seven degrees of rank, the Grange served chiefly as a social club for isolated rural families in the West and the South in the 1870s and 1880s. Although technically apolitical in the sense that its members did not run for office or endorse parties or candidates, it engaged heavily in lobbying Congress and state legislatures for reforms that would benefit rural America, such as regulation of railroad shipping rates, rural free delivery of the US mail, and more and better schools and colleges in the hinterlands.
By 1871 the National Grange had established two of its first three southern chapters in Mississippi. The Mississippi state Grange grew rapidly in the early 1870s, owing partly to the convenience that Ku Klux Klansmen found in using the Grange, with its secretive nature, as a front for violent activities during Reconstruction. Nationally, Grange membership began to dissipate after 1875, and Mississippi’s state Grange followed suit, but not before accomplishing one of its main goals—stripping the University of Mississippi of its Morrill Land Grant and establishing a separate state agricultural and mechanical college, which was founded in Oktibbeha County in 1878. This college is now Mississippi State University and was the second of its kind in the South.
In the 1880s many state Granges struggled for survival, but the Mississippi Grange remained the most consistently vibrant and active in the South, rivaled only by the Texas Grange. One reason for this organizational strength lay in the fact that the Mississippi agricultural and mechanical college administration and faculty used Grangers as students in out-of-class laboratories of experimental farming techniques. Another reason was the leadership of Mississippi’s US senator, James Z. George, who cosponsored the 1887 measure that established agricultural experiment stations around the nation. A third and more important reason was that in 1886 state grange master Putnam Darden was elected national grange master, an exalted position that filled Mississippi Grangers with pride. However, Darden died in 1887 and thus held the position only briefly.
Darden’s death, coupled with the rise of the National Farmers’ Alliance at about the same time, led to another decline in Grange membership in Mississippi. The Farmers’ Alliance destroyed the Grange in several southern states, but the Mississippi organization hung on despite its diminished membership. In the mid-1890s the Grange made a strong and semieffective effort to woo back Alliance members, but the Mississippi Grange finally folded in 1898, by which time much of the National Grange’s political agenda had been accomplished and the changing needs of rural farmers no longer justified the continuation of the organization.
- Stephen Cresswell, Rednecks, Redeemers, and Race: Mississippi after Reconstruction, 1877–1917 (2006)
- David H. Howard, People, Pride, and Progress: 125 Years of the Grange in America (1992)
- Albert Kirwan, Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics, 1876–1925 (1965)
- Sven D. Nordin, Rich Harvest: A History of the Grange, 1867–1900 (1974)
- Thomas Adams Upchurch, Journal of Mississippi History (Fall 2003)