Located in the central Delta and named for Confederate general and Mississippi governor Benjamin Humphreys, Humphreys County was founded in 1918. The Yazoo River flows through the county, and part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge lies within its boundaries. The county seat is Belzoni. Other towns include Isola, Louise, and Silver City.
In 1930 Humphreys had a population of 24,729, of whom 17,032 (69 percent) were African American. A rural and agricultural county with fewer than 200 industrial workers, Humphreys had more than fifty-six hundred farms, the majority of them worked by tenants and sharecroppers. During World War II, a site near Belzoni hosted a branch of Hinds County’s Camp McCain for prisoners of war.
By 1960 Humphreys’s population had declined to 19,093. Its racial demographics remained largely unchanged, though a small Chinese community had developed. Agricultural employment accounted for more than half of the workforce, and the crops grown included cotton, soybeans, winter wheat, rice, and oats. About 300 people worked in furniture and textile manufacturing. In 1976 Gov. Cliff Finch named Humphreys County the Farm-Raised Catfish Capital of the World because of its new efforts at catfish production. The county remained the top catfish-producing county in the United States until changes in the industry in the early twenty-first century.
Belzoni was the site of civil rights activity in the 1950s and some violent opposition. Minister George Lee and businessman Gus Courts helped organize a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1953. Lee was murdered in 1955—no charges were ever filed in the case—and Courts was driven from the area.
Humphreys County has been home to an impressive number of artists, musicians, and athletes. Blues musicians Elmore James and Pinetop Perkins spent part of their childhoods there, as did rhythm and blues performer Denise LaSalle. Jazz musician George Cartwright of the band Curlew was born in 1950 in the Humphreys town of Midnight. Artist Ethel Wright Mohammed lived in Belzoni for decades beginning in the 1920s, embroidering pictures of rural life, often specific to the Mississippi Delta. Basketball star Spencer Haywood’s long journey through the University of Detroit, the Olympics, the American Basketball Association, and the National Basketball Association began in Silver City. Lawrence Gordon, former president of Twentieth Century Fox and producer of numerous movies, including Die Hard, Predator, Field of Dreams, Hellboy, Watchmen, and Boogie Nights, is a native of Belzoni.
From 1960 to 1980 the county’s population again declined, reaching 13,931. Humphreys added a number of new industrial jobs, but private household work followed agriculture as the largest employer. More than 30 percent of the population, a figure considerably higher than the Mississippi average, had fewer than five years of education.
As in many core Delta counties, Humphreys County’s 2010 population was predominantly African American and had declined over the last half of the twentieth century. In fact, Humphrey County’s population had undergone one of the largest proportional decreases in the state, shrinking by 50.9 percent since 1960. By 2010 population of 9,375 was 74.5 percent African American and 23.5 percent white.
- Mississippi State Planning Commission, Progress Report on State Planning in Mississippi (1938)
- Mississippi Statistical Abstract, Mississippi State University (1952–2010)
- Mississippi History Now website, http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us
- 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)