Located in central Mississippi, Montgomery County was founded in 1871 from parts of Carroll and Choctaw Counties. In its first census in 1880, Montgomery was evenly divided between white (6,671) and African American (6,677) residents. Focused on agricultural production, the county’s farmers grew cotton and grains and raised livestock. Montgomery County had the third-most cattle in the state. Unlike many Mississippi counties in the postwar years, Montgomery’s farms were run overwhelmingly by owners (about 73 percent) rather than by tenants or sharecroppers.
Montgomery County was one of the centers of Mississippi Populist activity in the late 1880s. In 1888 the Mississippi Farmers’ Alliance started a cooperative store in Winona, the county seat, to make it easier for its members to market their crops and buy affordable goods.
In 1900 the county’s population of 16,536 had a slight African American majority. It also had a growing industrial workforce of more than 200 individuals. Two-thirds of all white farm families owned their land, while only one-fifth of black farmers did so.
By 1930 Montgomery County’s population had declined to 15,009. Whites made up 56 percent of this total, while African Americans comprised 44 percent. Montgomery remained an agricultural county, and tenancy rather than sharecropping had become common for both black and white farmers. Alongside agricultural labor, thirty-four industrial firms employed 343 people. The 1930 census was the first in which Winona was classified as a city, with slightly over 2,500 people.
More than 90 percent of Montgomery County’s church members in the 1916 religious census belonged to either Baptist or Methodist churches. The largest groups were the Missionary Baptists and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
Notable individuals associated with Montgomery County include bluesman B. B. King (born Riley King), who spent a great deal of his childhood in Kilmichael. Roebuck “Pops” Staples, another famous blues musician, was born near Kilmichael but grew up in the Delta before leading his family band, the Staples Singers, to success in the 1960s and 1970s. Other notable residents of Montgomery County have included A. Boyd Campbell, a state and national leader in the Chamber of Commerce, and George McLean, a journalist and community development leader in Tupelo, both of whom were born in Winona. Civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Montgomery County, though she spent most of her life in the Mississippi Delta. In 1963 she and other Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee workers were returning from a conference when she was put in a Winona jail and severely beaten.
In 1960 Montgomery County’s population had declined to 13,320, with whites continuing to make up a small majority of the residents. About 24 percent of Montgomery’s working people were employed in agriculture, primarily raising corn, cotton, soybeans, and livestock, while 23 percent worked in manufacturing, specifically in the apparel and furniture industries.
By 2010 whites comprised 53 percent of Montgomery County’s population. The total population, which had dropped by about 18 percent since 1960, was 10,925 in 2010.
- 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)