Named for Chickasaw leader Itawambe Miko (Levi Colbert), Itawamba County was founded in 1836 on land ceded by the Chickasaw in the Treaty of Pontotoc. Itawamba County is located in northeastern Mississippi, on the Alabama border. The Tombigbee River flows through Itawamba, as does the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The Natchez Trace Parkway travels through the county. The seat is Fulton, and other towns include Mantachie and Tremont.
In the 1840 census, Itawamba had 4,655 free residents and 720 slaves. Ninety-four people worked in commerce and manufacturing. By 1860 the population had grown to 14,167 free people and 3,528 slaves, one of the lowest percentages among the state’s counties. Itawamba ranked thirty-fifth in the state in cotton production and also grew corn, sweet potatoes, peas, and beans. Itawamba’s manufacturing sector employed one hundred people at a variety of companies. The county’s seventeen houses of worship included eight Baptist churches, six Methodist churches, and three Presbyterian churches.
After the Civil War, Itawamba continued to have a large white majority, with whites making up 90 percent of the county’s 10,663 people in 1880. Most of those residents worked in agriculture, and 80 percent of farmers owned their land. Only twelve people worked in manufacturing. In 1900 African Americans still comprised less than 10 percent of the county’s 13,544 residents. Most farmers owned their land, and as in many such counties, the average farm size was fairly large, at 121 acres. Itawamba had only fifty-three industrial workers in 1900. The 1916 religious census found the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to be the largest religious group, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Churches of Christ.
In 1930 Itawamba was one of Mississippi’s least populated counties, with the second-lowest population density in the state. Only 6 percent of the county’s 18,225 residents were African Americans, giving Itawamba the lowest percentage of African Americans per square mile in the state. In a dramatic change since 1900, tenant farmers ran about two-thirds of the county’s farms, and the number of industrial workers had grown to 317.
Itawamba’s population declined to just over fifteen thousand by 1960 but topped twenty thousand two decades later. The county’s labor force followed state trends, with agriculture losing workers and manufacturing gaining them. Although Itawamba’s industry was slow to grow, it employed more than twenty-five hundred people in 1980, largely in textile and clothing production. Those who worked in agriculture relied on corn, soybeans, and livestock.
Singer Tammy Wynette, born Virginia Wynette Pugh in 1942, grew up in Itawamba County. Poet and author Elmo Howell, born in Itawamba County in 1918, wrote widely on Mississippi’s small towns and country roads. Sculptor Burgess Delaney, born in 1914, grew up in rural Itawamba County and spent his entire life there, using local clay in his work. Congressman John Rankin was born 1882 in rural Itawamba County. From the 1920s through the 1940s he was an outspoken conservative on issues of race and the power of government. Sharion Aycock, the first female federal district court judge in Mississippi and first woman elected head of the Mississippi Bar Association, grew up in Tremont. In 2010 the county’s Constance McMillen joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in a successful suit that forced the Itawamba County School District to allow her to attend the Itawamba Agricultural High School prom with her girlfriend.
In 2010 Itawamba’s population of 23,401 was 92.4 percent white and roughly 6.5 percent African American.
- Mississippi State Planning Commission, Progress Report on State Planning in Mississippi (1938)
- Mississippi Statistical Abstract, Mississippi State University (1952–2010)
- 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)