The Making of Appalachian Mississippi
In October 1967, Mississippi joined the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a Great Society program that distributed federal money to local governments across mountainous states like West Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. There’s just one problem: Mississippi lacks mountains. This article explores how segregationist Southern Democrats came together with northern liberals to reimagine and remap Mississippi as a place not reeling from the legacies of plantation slavery but merely suffering from a lack of economic development. I argue that this movement to invent “Appalachian Mississippi” countered the liberal War on Poverty’s economic empowerment of rural Black communities and tapped into larger currents of color-blind popular music. In considering the first hit song from a native of Appalachian Mississippi, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” this article suggests that popular culture resonated with political intrigue to redistribute American wealth through the South’s white powerbrokers.