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Amite County, Mississippi

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Please add profiles of those who were born, lived or died in Amite County, Mississippi.

Official Website


Amite County was established in February 1809 from the eastern portion of Wilkinson County and was named for the Amite River, which was in turn named for the friendly (French: amitiés) Houma Indians encountered by French explorers in the region. At this time, the population of the county numbered about 4000 people, about 80% of whom were middle-class families of seventeenth century Virginia stock who had passed through other frontier states. Primary religious groups included Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. The courthouse in Liberty was completed in 1840 and is the oldest courthouse in Mississippi in continuous use. Liberty eventually became the county's business center, based on timber from longleaf pine and cultivation of cotton, indigo, and tobacco, often on plantations worked by negro slaves. Cotton was the basis of the economy until the 1930s. In the 1850s, Liberty hosted opera singer Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," at the Walsh building.

In 1861, the state legislature called a convention in order to vote on secession from the United States of America. The state then voted to join the Confederate States of America. At the end of the war, 279 men from Amite County had died for the Confederate cause. Amite County was not in a theater of war of the American Civil War. A raiding party of Union cavalry under the command of Colonel Benjamin Grierson is known to have camped in the county nine miles east of Liberty on the evening of 28 April 1863 while conducting a deep penetration raid as part of the Vicksburg Campaign. As part of that raid, many homes and farms were pillaged, and most of the buildings of the Amite Female Seminary were burnt.

At the end of the Civil War, Amite County's population was 60% black. During Reconstruction, freedmen elected several blacks to local office as county sheriff. After Reconstruction, white Democrats regained power in the state legislature through a combination of violent voter repression and fraud. They disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites in the state by the new 1890 state constitution, which imposed a poll tax, literacy tests, and other requirements as barriers to voter registration. These were administered by whites in a discriminatory way. Most black voters and many poor whites were dropped from the voter rolls.

Racial violence, including lynchings, escalated during the Jim Crow years. The county had 14 documented lynchings in the period from 1877 to 1950; most took place around the turn of the twentieth century.

Blacks were excluded from the political process in the county and state until the late 1960s. Blacks were a majority in the state until the 1930s but excluded from voting, they were also excluded from juries and the entire political system.

The county continued to be based on agriculture, shifting to logging and dairy farming in the 1930s. As agriculture was mechanized, reducing the need for farm labor, many blacks left Amite County during the early 20th century in two waves of the Great Migration. In the first wave many moved north to Chicago and other industrial cities of the Midwest. In the second wave, they moved to the West Coast, where the burgeoning defense industry in California created jobs. From 1940 to 1960, the county population declined by 29%.

In the 1950s, local farmer E.W. Steptoe founded a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the county, and Herbert Lee, a married farmer with nine children, was among its charter members. They were working to regain civil rights, including the ability to vote. In the summer of 1961, Bob Moses from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee worked in the county to organize blacks for voter registration. He was beaten by Bill Caston, a cousin to the sheriff, near the county courthouse, and arrested. He was told to leave the county for his own safety. In the 1960s, only one negro of the total of 5,500 in Amite County was a registered voter. Even after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, extensive grassroots efforts were required to register eligible voters.

Racial violence against blacks in the county escalated during the years of the Civil Rights Movement. On September 25, 1961, at the Westbrook Cotton Gin, about a dozen witnesses, both white and black, saw E.H. Hurst, a white state legislator, murder Herbert Lee. At the inquest that day, Hurst claimed self-defense and witnesses, intimidated by armed white men in the courtroom, supported him. Learning that the federal government might hold a grand jury in the case, Louis Allen, a negro veteran of World War II and witness to Lee's murder, talked to the FBI to try to gain protection if he were to testify truthfully to what he saw. They said they could not help him. Whites suspected he had talked with the FBI and began to harass him.

His business was boycotted, and Allen was beaten and arrested more than once by the county sheriff. He stayed in the area to help his aging parents, but planned to leave. On January 31, 1964, he was shot and killed on his land. No one was prosecuted for Allen's death. Investigations since 1994 suggest that Allen was killed by Daniel (Danny) Jones, the county sheriff and son of the Ku Klux Klan's leader in the county. Danny Jones was featured in a 2011 episode of 60 Minutes focusing on civil rights cold cases, but he denied an interview.

Following the repression of the civil rights era and a continuing poor economy, younger blacks continued to leave the county, seeking jobs in bigger cities. The population declined more than 11 percent from 1960 to 1970, and further declines occurred to 1980. Because of the murders of Lee and Allen, voter registration efforts had stopped in the early 1960s. Blacks did not register until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided federal protection and oversight. Today the county is majority white in population.

Adjacent Counties

Towns & Communities

  • Bewelcome
  • Centreville (part)
  • Coles
  • Crosby (part)
  • Elysian Fields
  • Gillsburg
  • Gloster
  • Homochitto
  • Hustler
  • Liberty (County Seat)
  • Smithdale



National Register of Historica Places

Homochitto National Forest (part)

MS GenWeb

Genealogy Trails

Amite County Historical & Genealogical Society