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MISSISSIPPI - OUR 20TH STATE

By JASMIN K. WILLIAMS

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January 31, 2007 -- This land of cotton became the 20th state on Dec. 10, 1817.

Mississippi is just slightly larger than New York state, at 46,914 square miles. The capital is Jackson. The state would become infamous as a result of the often deadly violence directed at African-Americans. The 1955 murder of 14-year old Emmett Till in Money, Miss., sparked the modern civil-rights movement.

The first European to explore the land that would become Mississippi was Hernando de Soto, in 1540. The territory had been home to the Choctaw and Chickasaw natives, who named local towns Natchez, Yazoo and Biloxi. The state was named for the great river that flows through it. The name "Mississippi" means "Father of Waters."

The land was deeded to the United States as a result of the French and Indian War. Mississippi was admitted into the union on Dec. 10, 1817.

Cotton was the state's great cash crop. Plantation owners amassed huge fortunes from it. Slaves were essential to work the huge cotton fields. This would become a leading factor in Mississippi's secession from the Union. Mississippi became the second state to leave the Union - after South Carolina - doing so on Jan 9, 1861.

During the Civil War (1860-65), more than 17,000 black Mississippians, both slaves and freedmen, fought for the Union. About 80,000 white Mississippians fought for the Confederacy. The territory along the Mississippi River was the scene of some of the fiercest battles of the war. The state resisted enlisting slaves as soldiers, as the thought of a black man with a rifle was out of the question, even after the Confederate Congress authorized black enlistment toward the end of the war.

The Union's victory in the war marked the end of slavery - and the end of life as the South knew it. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited involuntary servitude or slavery. Mississippi was the last of the 36 states in the Union as of 1865 to ratify it, doing so 130 years later, on March 16, 1995.

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