Mississippi's white and African American population both decreased during the past 10 years, but the overall non-white population grew. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

Legislators will be redrawing Mississippi’s four U.S. House seats and 174 state legislative seats as the state is undergoing some significant changes to its population.

The percentage of the state’s white population is shrinking faster than that of other demographic groups. The state’s white and African American population both decreased during the past 10 years, but the overall non-white population grew.

Additionally, Mississippians are moving from rural to urban and suburban areas of the state.

The state had a Black population of 1,084,481 as of the 2020 Census compared to 1,098,385 10 years earlier — a decline of 13,940 people. During the same time, Mississippi’s white population decreased at a much faster rate, shrinking 95,791 people the past 10 years to 1,658,893. Other minority groups experienced slight upticks during the past 10 years, though still making up a much smaller percentage of the state’s overall population when compared to the white and African American population.

The percentage of Mississippians identifying as other than solely white or African American was 3.85% in 2010 and now stands at 7.36%, according to Census data. Scott County in east central Mississippi is now about 15% Hispanic.

A growing non-white population in the midst of overall population loss is one of the puzzles members of the Legislature will have to figure out next year as they redraw the U.S. congressional and state legislative seats.

To further complicate that puzzle, the 2020 Census reveals that the areas of the state that have traditionally been majority African American — primarily counties touching or close to the Mississippi River — lost significant population the past 10 years. According to information compiled by Chism Strategies, a Mississippi-based polling and political consulting firm, the population of the Delta, which comprises a considerable amount of the river counties, declined 38,000 or 12% during the past 10 years.

Currently, there are 14 African American-majority districts in the state Senate and 42 in the House. Under federal law, it is difficult, though not impossible, for states to reduce the number of Black majority districts through a process called retrogression. So the Legislature will face the challenge of finding new Black majority districts to perhaps replace population loss in traditional Black population centers that are losing residents, such as the Mississippi Delta.

READ MORE: Mississippi one of just three states to lose population since 2010

A joint legislative committee recently concluded a series of nine hearing across the state to garner public input on redistricting as they begin the task of redrawing the districts to match population shifts found during the 2020 shifts. The Legislature is expected to take up redistricting during the 2022 session, which begins in January.

Both the U.S. Constitution and state law mandate the redrawing of districts every 10 years after the Census is completed.

Time and again during the series of hearings, legislators were urged to ensure Black representation grows in the state. But how to achieve that African American representation has evolved over the years.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, who has been a member of the state House since 1980 and played a major role in increasing the number of Black majority districts in the state, has said in past interviews that at one time there was a belief that super majority minority districts (Black populations of 75% or more) had to be drawn for Black candidates to win. Blackmon said that is no longer the case. He and others now oppose what they say are the efforts of Republican majorities “to pack” Black residents in a limited number of districts.

Now, Blackmon and others argue, Black residents should not be “packed” into super majority minority districts but instead spread into more districts to increase their influence.

“Stacking and packing and gerrymandering voting districts to make safe districts for any party should be avoided,” said Lynn Evans, a board member of Mississippi Common Cause, which promotes for various issues dealing with governmental transparency. She said “classic safe districts” have a tendency to elect candidates who often do not serve the best interest of the state as a whole.

Rep. Hester Jackson McCray, D-Southaven, whose narrow win in House District 40 in 2019 made her the first African American to represent DeSoto County in the Legislature, said, “DeSoto County has the 3rd largest minority population in our state, but I feel that our minority population communities have been successfully broken apart and gerrymandered so that our vote has been diluted, and it has been impossible for a person of color to win a seat at the legislative table where decisions are made until my House 40 victory in 2019.”

Evans said the Black population in DeSoto County has grown by nearly 20,000 residents since 2010.

To highlight the evolution of DeSoto County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, look no further than Jackson McCray’s District 40. In 2010, District 40 had a Black population of 34%. Now its African American population is just under 50% and when "other" groups are factored in, the district's minority population is now a majority, according to the 2020 Census data. She said during one of the public hearings of the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee that perhaps two African American majority House district and a Senate district could be drawn in the fast growing Memphis suburb.

Overall, six counties had growth of 10% or more while 12 more had growth of less than 10%. Those growing counties were mostly in urban or suburban areas. The other 64 counties, mostly rural, lost population.  The most glaring exception to the trend of migration from rural to urban/suburban areas was Hinds, the state’s most populous county, which includes Jackson, the state’s most populous city. Hinds’ population declined 17,000, or 7%, according to Chism.

According to analysis done by Chism, only nine of the 42 majority Black districts had a population that was within 5% of the legally allowed ideal population. The rest were below that number.

The trick for the Legislature will be to draw districts to provide representation for the state’s African American population in light of the fact that traditional centers of Black population in the state are losing residents in significant numbers.

The state’s Black population in 2010 was 37.02%, with a black voting-age population of 34.7%, based on Census data. African Americans comprise 36.62% of the population in 2020, with a black voting-age population of 35.25%.

But during the same time period the decline in the white community was much more precipitous, dropping from 59.13% in 2010 to 56.02% in 2020.

These numbers reflect those who identify in only one demographic area. To further illustrate the growth in the state’s minority population, the percentage of people who identify in more than one demographic area also is growing.

Overall, Mississippi’s population declined slightly during the past 10 years — just over 6,000 people to 2,961,279. Most states in the Southeastern region had significant population gains.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.