Founded in 1870, Union County was formed from sections of Tippah and Pontotoc Counties, with some land added from Lee County in 1874. The county received its name during Reconstruction, after the Union of the United States. Union is located in northeastern Mississippi, a region once populated by the Chickasaw. Ingomar Mound, located five miles south of New Albany, the county seat, was built more than two thousand years ago by early indigenous people and used by the Chickasaw for ceremonial purposes.
Like most counties in northeastern Mississippi, Union relied on an agricultural economy and concentrated on grains far more than cotton in the late nineteenth century. In 1880 Union County farmers grew the fifth-most wheat in the state and thirteenth-most corn but ranked forty-fifth in the production of cotton. Around 60 percent of Union farmers cultivated their own land. Union’s population numbered 13,030, the large majority of them white, and included 20 foreign-born residents.
By 1900 Union had grown to 16,522 people. As in much of Mississippi, whites and African Americans had widely divergent rates of landowning. While 46 percent of the county’s 2,305 white farmers owned their land, only 14 percent of the 590 black farmers did so, with the rest working as tenants and sharecroppers. Union County had forty-five manufacturing establishments employing ninety-four workers, all but one of them male.
Mirroring other counties in the region, the Baptists dominated religion in Union. According to the religious census of 1916, Missionary Baptists and Southern Baptists were by far the largest groups in the county, followed by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
Author William Faulkner was born in New Albany in 1897. He moved with his family to Oxford in 1902, and he based his fictional Yoknapatawpha County on Union, Tippah, Marshall, Panola, and Lafayette Counties. Author Borden Deal also spent part of his youth in Union County. Sam Mosley and Bob Johnson formed the popular Mosley and Johnson blues band in New Albany in 1967 and played together until Johnson’s death in 1998.
By 1930 Union County’s population had increased to 21,268, with whites outnumbering African Americans by a ratio of about four to one. New Albany had grown to 2,500 people, and the county had 250 industrial workers. In 1948 Morris Futorian, the Father of the Furniture Industry in Mississippi, opened a factory that initially employed 55 people. As in most other areas of northeastern Mississippi, Union County’s predominance of family-owned farms had given way to an economy in which 62 percent of farms were run by tenants. Corn and cattle remained the dominant agricultural pursuits.
The county’s population declined to just under 19,000 in 1960: 82 percent of those residents were white. About a quarter of Union County’s working people held jobs in industry, with men working in furniture and timber and both women and men working in the apparel industry. Agriculture accounted for 28 percent of the workforce, with corn, soybeans, and livestock dominating.
As in most counties in northeastern Mississippi, Union County’s 2010 population was predominantly white (81 percent), included a small but significant Hispanic/Latino minority (4.5 percent), and had increased over the preceding half century (to 27,134). The 2010 opening of a large Toyota plant in the community of Blue Springs spurred significant new economic activity.
- Judd Hambrick, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (17 October 2010)
- Mississippi Blues Trail website, www.msbluestrail.org
- 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
- Visit Mississippi website, www.visitmississippi.org
- E. Nolan Waller and Dani A. Smith, Growth Profiles of Mississippi’s Counties, 1960–1980 (1985)