The territory that comprises modern Mississippi was first visited by Europeans in 1540. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through the region on his way to discovering the river of the same name. The French were the first Europeans to settle in the state but ceded it to the British following the French and Indian War. Mississippi was incorporated as a territory in 1798. It drew from land originally partitioned for Georgia and South Carolina.
In 1817, Mississippi joined the Union as the 20th state. It quickly grew to be one of the largest producers of cotton in the United States. This important crop made the state wealthy, but the boon was created off the backs of enslaved African-Americans.
Mississippi's reliance on slave labor led it to be the second state to secede from the Union in 1861. A former Mississippi senator, Jefferson Davis, served as the president of the Confederacy. The Civil War took a heavy toll on the state, in both citizens lost and material destroyed. Following the war, the state instituted a series of restrictive segregationist policies. This birthed a sharp exodus by the African-American community.
These racial tensions remained into the 1960s, and Mississippi was thus a prominent setting for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, famed activist Medgar Evers was notoriously assassinated in the state. His murderer was finally brought to justice in 1994. The following year, in an effort to distance itself from this past, the state symbolically recognized the 13th amendment, the amendment abolishing slavery.