Mississippi is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States, bordered to the north by Tennessee; to the east by Alabama; to the south by the Gulf of Mexico; to the southwest by Louisiana; and to the northwest by Arkansas. Mississippi’s western boundary is largely defined by the Mississippi River. Mississippi is the 32nd largest and 35th-most populous of the 50 U.S. states. Jackson is both the state’s capital and largest city. Greater Jackson is the state’s most populous metropolitan area, with a population of 591,978 in 2020.
Mississippi is bordered to the north by Tennessee, to the east by Alabama, to the south by Louisiana and a narrow coast on the Gulf of Mexico; and to the west, across the Mississippi River, by Louisiana and Arkansas. In addition to its namesake, major rivers in Mississippi include the Big Black River, the Pearl River, the Yazoo River, the Pascagoula River, and the Tombigbee River. Major lakes include Ross Barnett Reservoir, Arkabutla, Sardis, and Grenada, with the largest being Sardis Lake.
Mississippi is entirely composed of lowlands, the highest point being Woodall Mountain, at 807 ft (246 m) above sea level, in the northeastern part of the state. The lowest point is sea level at the Gulf Coast. The state’s mean elevation is 300 ft (91 m) above sea level. Most of Mississippi is part of the East Gulf Coastal Plain. The coastal plain is generally composed of low hills, such as the Pine Hills in the south and the North Central Hills. The Pontotoc Ridge and the Fall Line Hills in the northeast have somewhat higher elevations. Yellow-brown loess soil is found in the western parts of the state. The northeast is a region of fertile black earth uplands, a geology that extend into the Alabama Black Belt.
Mississippi has a humid subtropical climate with long, hot and humid summers, and short, mild winters. Temperatures average about 81 °F (27 °C) in July and about 42 °F (6 °C) in January. The temperature varies little statewide in the summer; however, in winter, the region near Mississippi Sound is significantly warmer than the inland portion of the state. The recorded temperature in Mississippi has ranged from −19 °F (−28 °C), in 1966, at Corinth in the northeast, to 115 °F (46 °C), in 1930, at Holly Springs in the north. Heavy snowfall rarely occurs, but isn’t unheard of, such as during the New Year’s Eve 1963 snowstorm. Yearly precipitation generally increases from north to south, with the regions closer to the Gulf being the most humid. Thus, Clarksdale, in the northwest, gets about 50 in (1,300 mm) of precipitation annually and Biloxi, in the south, about 61 in (1,500 mm). Small amounts of snow fall in northern and central Mississippi; snow is occasional in the southern part of the state.
The late summer and fall is the seasonal period of risk for hurricanes moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the southern part of the state. Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed 238 people in the state, were the most devastating hurricanes to hit the state. Both caused nearly total storm surge destruction of structures in and around Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula.
Mississippi is heavily forested, with over half of the state’s area covered by wild or cultivated trees. The southeastern part of the state is dominated by longleaf pine, in both uplands and lowland flatwoods and Sarracenia bogs. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain, or Delta, is primarily farmland and aquaculture ponds but also has sizeable tracts of cottonwood, willows, bald cypress, and oaks. A belt of loess extends north to south in the western part of the state, where the Mississippi Alluvial Plain reaches the first hills; this region is characterized by rich, mesic mixed hardwood forests, with some species disjunct from Appalachian forests. Two bands of historical prairie, the Jackson Prairie and the Black Belt, run northwest to southeast in the middle and northeastern part of the state.
Although these areas have been highly degraded by conversion to agriculture, a few areas remain, consisting of grassland with interspersed woodland of eastern redcedar, oaks, hickories, osage-orange, and sugarberry. The rest of the state, primarily north of Interstate 20 not including the prairie regions, consists of mixed pine-hardwood forest, common species being loblolly pine, oaks (e.g., water oak), hickories, sweetgum, and elm. Areas along large rivers are commonly inhabited by bald cypress, water tupelo, water elm, and bitter pecan. Commonly cultivated trees include loblolly pine, longleaf pine, cherrybark oak, and cottonwood.
There are approximately 3000 species of vascular plants known from Mississippi. As of 2018, a project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation aims to update that checklist of plants with museum (herbarium) vouchers and create an online atlas of each species’s distribution. About 420 species of birds are known to inhabit Mississippi.
A racial/ethnic map of the state of Mississippi. The purple counties have black majorities, the blue ones have white majorities. The darker the color, the larger the majority.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Mississippi was 2,976,149 on July 1, 2019, a 0.30% increase since the 2010 census. The state’s economist characterized the state as losing population as job markets elsewhere have caused 3.2 per 1000 to migrate recently.
From 2000 to 2010, the United States Census Bureau reported that Mississippi had the highest rate of increase in people identifying as mixed-race, up 70 percent in the decade; it amounts to a total of 1.1 percent of the population. In addition, Mississippi led the nation for most of the last decade in the growth of mixed marriages among its population. The total population has not increased significantly, but is young. Some of the above change in identification as mixed race is due to new births. But, it appears mostly to reflect those residents who have chosen to identify as more than one race, who in earlier years may have identified by just one ethnicity. A binary racial system had been in place since slavery times and the days of official government racial segregation. In the civil rights era, people of African descent banded together in an inclusive community to achieve political power and gain restoration of their civil rights.
In 2000, 96.4% of Mississippi residents five years old and older spoke only English in the home, a decrease from 97.2% in 1990. English is largely Southern American English, with some South Midland speech in northern and eastern Mississippi. There is a common absence of final /r/, particularly in the elderly natives and African Americans, and the lengthening and weakening of the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /ɔɪ/ as in ‘ride’ and ‘oil’. South Midland terms in northern Mississippi include: tow sack (burlap bag), dog irons (andirons), plum peach (clingstone peach), snake doctor (dragonfly), and stone wall (rock fence).
Public opinion polls have consistently ranked Mississippi as the most religious state in the United States, with 59% of Mississippians considering themselves “very religious”. The same survey also found that 11% of the population were non-Religious. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 63% of Mississippians said that they attended church weekly or almost weekly—the highest percentage of all states (U.S. average was 42%, and the lowest percentage was in Vermont at 23%). Another 2008 Gallup poll found that 85% of Mississippians considered religion an important part of their daily lives, the highest figure among all states (U.S. average 65%).
The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that Mississippi’s total state product in 2010 was $98 billion. GDP growth was .5 percent in 2015 and is estimated to be 2.4 in 2016 according to Dr. Darrin Webb, the state’s chief economist, who noted it would make two consecutive years of positive growth since the recession. Per capita personal income in 2006 was $26,908, the lowest per capita personal income of any state, but the state also has the nation’s lowest living costs. 2015 data records the adjusted per capita personal income at $40,105. Mississippians consistently rank as one of the highest per capita in charitable contributions.
At 56 percent, the state has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the country. Approximately 70,000 adults are disabled, which is 10 percent of the workforce.
Mississippi, like the rest of its southern neighbors, is a right-to-work state. It has some major automotive factories, such as the Toyota Mississippi Plant in Blue Springs and a Nissan Automotive plant in Canton. The latter produces the Nissan Titan.
Until the Civil War era, Mississippi had a small number of schools and no educational institutions for African Americans. The first school for black students was not established until 1862.
During Reconstruction in 1871, black and white Republicans drafted a constitution that was the first to provide for a system of free public education in the state. The state’s dependence on agriculture and resistance to taxation limited the funds it had available to spend on any schools. In the early 20th century, there were still few schools in rural areas, particularly for black children. Blacks and whites attended segregated and separate public schools in Mississippi until the late 1960s, although such segregation had been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in its 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
In the late 1980s Mississippi’s 954 public schools enrolled about 369,500 elementary and 132,500 secondary students. Some 45,700 students attended private schools. In the 21st century, 91% of white children and most of the black children in the state attend public schools. In 2008, Mississippi was ranked last among the fifty states in academic achievement by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Report Card on Education, with the lowest average ACT scores and sixth-lowest spending per pupil in the nation. In contrast, Mississippi had the 17th-highest average SAT scores in the nation. As an explanation, the Report noted that 92% of Mississippi high school graduates took the ACT, but only 3% of graduates took the SAT, apparently a self-selection of higher achievers. This breakdown compares to the national average of high school graduates taking the ACT and SAT, of 43% and 45%, respectively.
While Mississippi has been especially known for its music and literature, it has embraced other forms of art. Its strong religious traditions have inspired striking works by outsider artists who have been shown nationally.
Jackson established the USA International Ballet Competition, which is held every four years. This ballet competition attracts the most talented young dancers from around the world. The Magnolia Independent Film Festival, still held annually in Starkville, is the first and oldest in the state. George Ohr, known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi” and the father of abstract expressionism in pottery, lived and worked in Biloxi, MS.
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