Scott County was founded in 1833 and named for Gov. Abram M. Scott. Forest is the county seat, and other communities include Morton, Sebastopol, and Lake. In its first census in 1840, the central Mississippi county had one of the state’s smallest populations, with 1,191 free people and 462 slaves.
By 1860 Scott County recorded 5,180 free people and 2,959 slaves. Still relatively small, it ranked in the bottom third of Mississippi counties for agricultural production. The county’s five lumber mills employed thirty-one industrial workers. The county also had fourteen churches—eight Baptist, four Methodist, and the state’s only two Lutheran churches.
By 1880 Scott County was home to 10,845 people: 6,633 whites, 4,132 African Americans, and 80 Native Americans. Landowners cultivated 61 percent of the county’s farms, and few of the county’s residents worked in industry.
Scott County’s population continued to grow, and by 1900 it had 14,316 residents. A majority of Scott’s farmers owned their land, though 68 percent of white farmers did so, compared to just 47 percent of African American farmers. Industrial establishments employed fifty-nine workers, all but two of them male. According to the 1916 religious census, most county residents were Missionary Baptists, Southern Baptists, or members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
By 1930 Scott County’s population topped 20,000, with whites accounting for 60 percent of residents. The county’s sixteen manufacturing establishments, including some lumber mills, employed more than 900 workers, and Scott’s 3,540 farms were run by a combination of tenant farmers (52 percent) and owners (48 percent). Bienville National Forest, established in 1936, provided 178,000 acres of land for fishing, hiking, and camping.
Blues musician Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup was born in Forest in 1905. Crudup became known as the Father of Rock and Roll after three of his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley in the 1950s. Born in Morton in 1968, Angela Boyd moved to California after graduating from high school and pursued a career in R&B music and dance under the name B Angie B, later collaborating with pop star MC Hammer.
Scott County’s population grew only slightly in the mid-twentieth century. In 1960 whites made up 62 percent of the residents, and African Americans 38 percent. The county was also home to 46 Native Americans. About 30 percent of the county’s workers remained employed in agriculture, primarily raising corn, soybeans, and livestock, and 20 percent worked in manufacturing, especially food products.
Two important figures in Mississippi’s political and legal responses to the civil rights movement came from Scott County. Erle Johnston moved to Forest to work for the Scott County Times, a newspaper he later purchased. In the early 1960s he served as the public relations director for the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the spying and propaganda organization that sought to discredit civil rights activists. Johnston and his wife, Fay, continued to work at the newspaper, and he served as mayor of Forest in the 1980s. US district judge Sidney Carr Mize, born in Scott County in 1888, ruled in Meredith v. Fair (1962) that the University of Mississippi had not discriminated against James Meredith because of issues of race. That decision was soon overturned.
In the 1970s B. C. Rogers Poultry in Morton began hiring Mexican and Mexican American workers for its plant. Those workers did not remain at B. C. Rogers, in part because efforts to organize a union failed, but other employers began to recruit Hispanic workers. Like many counties in central Mississippi, in 2010 Scott County had a small white majority and a significant African American minority and had shown an overall increase in size since 1960. The county’s large Hispanic/Latino minority accounted for nearly 11 percent of the 28,315 residents.
- 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)