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Stay in Mississippi long enough, and you’ll hear folks refer to a time ‘when cotton was king.’ That time dates back at least to 1860, when Mississippi was the country’s leading cotton producer and one of the 10 wealthiest states. The Civil War wrecked Mississippi’s economy, and reconstruction was traumatic. And the state’s racist history – from slavery through the Civil Rights era – has left deep scars. (One of the most famous incidents came in 1962, when violence erupted as student James Meredith became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi.)

Today, though still a poor state, people have come to realize that the blues – one of America’s richest and most distinctive art forms – are worth celebrating. And that Mississippi has been disproportionately blessed with literary luminaries. And so the state has developed a tourist industry revolving around its proud cultural history, as well as its waterfront casinos.