Named for the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis County was created in 1906 from parts of Covington and Lawrence Counties. The county is located in the south-central part of the state, and the seat is Prentiss.
In the 1910 census, the county’s population totaled 12,860 and was 53 percent African American and 47 percent white. About 60 percent of all farming families owned their land, while the rest worked as tenants. White farmers were slightly more likely to own their land than were African American farmers.
In 1907 Bertha and Jonas Johnson established Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute in Jefferson Davis County. Founded on principles Bertha Johnson had learned at the Tuskegee Institute, the school initially emphasized agricultural and vocational training, later added a high school and junior college, and supported at least one Rosenwald building. Among the leading individuals who attended Prentiss Normal and Industrial prior to its closure in 1989 was religious leader and activist Dolphus Weary.
In 1930 Jefferson Davis County had a population of 14,281, including 7,901 African Americans and 6,380 whites. A rural and agricultural county, Jefferson Davis County had no urban centers and just seven people born outside the United States. Of the county’s 2,958 farms, 40 percent were run by owners—tenants worked the rest. Farmers grew more corn than other crops, and the county’s nine manufacturing establishments employed 77 workers. Both of those numbers were among the lowest in the state. In 1934 Jefferson Davis County became one of the first areas to gain power via the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The religious census of 1916 found that most of Jefferson Davis County’s church members were either Baptists or Methodists. About two-thirds of all church members belonged to the Missionary Baptist or Southern Baptist Churches, and the other largest groups were the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church; and the Roman Catholic Church.
From 1930 to 1960 the population declined slightly to 13,540, and Jefferson Davis County continued to have a small African American majority. Agricultural employment dropped from 2,030 in 1960 to 200 in 1980. Major crops included soybeans, cotton, and corn. Even in 1960 the county had relatively little industry, employing 457 people in some small furniture and clothing factories. In 1960 about 34 percent of the county’s workers were employed in agriculture, and just 13 percent worked in industry. Seven gas wells promised profits.
Notable people from Jefferson Davis County include professional basketballer Al Jefferson. Steve McNair, a National Football League player who attended Alcorn State University and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times, is buried in Prentiss.
Unlike most counties in southern Mississippi, Jefferson Davis County’s 2010 population was predominantly African American and had remained relatively stable in size since 1960. In 2010 the county’s population of 12,487 was 60 percent African American and 38.7 percent white.
- 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)