Simpson County, founded in 1824, is located in south-central Mississippi and is named for Josiah Simpson, a judge and political figure in early Mississippi. Mendenhall is the county seat, and other communities include Magee, D’Lo, and Braxton. Prior to 1840, slaves constituted less than one-third of the county’s population.
A small county on the northern side of the Piney Woods area, antebellum Simpson ranked in the bottom quarter of the state’s counties in all forms of agricultural production. Antebellum political leader Franklin Plummer, a lawyer and education supporter by the 1820s, got his start in politics when he was elected to the Mississippi legislature in 1826. By 1860 the county’s population included 2,324 slaves and 3,756 free people, and the county had eleven Baptist churches and eight Methodist congregations.
Simpson County’s population reached 8,008 by 1880. Nearly 85 percent of its farms were cultivated by their owners, who concentrated more on livestock than on cotton, grains, or other crops. Manufacturing was slow to develop, with only eleven men and two children recorded as working in industry.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Simpson County’s population had increased to 12,800, with African Americans accounting for 39 percent of the total. As in many Mississippi counties, African Americans were less likely to own land than whites: while about three-quarters of Simpson’s white farmers owned their land, only 43 percent of black farmers did so. Simpson had a small but growing industrial force, with twenty-seven establishments employing seventy-eight workers, all of them male.
More than three-quarters of all churchgoers in early twentieth-century Simpson County were Baptists—primarily members of the Southern Baptist Convention, with substantial numbers of Missionary Baptists as well. Among the remainder, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church predominated.
By 1930 Simpson County’s population had increased to 20,000, with whites outnumbering African Americans by about two to one. In a dramatic change from the late 1800s, about half of the farms were operated by tenants. The number of industrial workers, most of them in the timber industry, reached 800. From 1918 to the 1950s Magee was home of the Mississippi State Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
Writer Patrick Smith was born in Mendenhall in 1927, and he grew up and spent part of his adult life in Simpson County. Smith’s first work, The River Is Home (1953), told stories of people living along the Pearl River.
The county’s population remained stable through the mid-twentieth century, and as of 1960, Simpson had far more agricultural workers (27 percent of the workforce) than industrial workers (16 percent). Most of the manufacturing growth came in the apparel industry.
In 1961 John Perkins founded the Voice of Calvary Ministries, an ambitious effort to integrate religious life with educational and economic programs. Perkins, who detailed the murder of his brother and other parts of his life in works such as Let Justice Roll Down (1976), became a force in the civil rights movement. In the 1970s Dolphus Weary joined Perkins and others in the ministry, which eventually moved to Jackson.
Like many southern Mississippi counties, Simpson County’s 2010 population was predominantly white and had grown since 1960, reaching 27,503. Sixty-three percent of residents were white and 35 percent were African American. The county also had a small Hispanic population and handfuls of Native American and Asian 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)