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Native American

Indian-moundQuitman County has a highly significant Native American history with archaeological sites representing most of the pre-historic cultures. Quitman County has four Native American Mounds listed on the National Historic Register. The Denton site is highly significant as it dates to Archaic period, approximately 4000 B.C. and appears to have been a “node of interaction” for cultural activity throughout the region.

The Northwest region is home to cultural artifacts left behind by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Native Americans in their migration westward. It has been estimated that over 200,000 members of these tribes were living in what is now the Mississippi region. These ancient cultures left behind several group of mounds that are designated as national landmarks.

The Archaeological Conservancy in Marks housed the history and many artifacts of this culture.

Early Settlement

The first known settler to the site of Marks, MS was a woodsman and trapper named Moore who built a small cabin on the banks of the Coldwater River. In 1852, Thomas B. Hill bought a large tract of land from the State including Moore’s site and cleared a large plantation of over 5,000 acres. He built a fine brick home overlooking the Coldwater. At this time steamboats traveled up the Yazoo, the Tallahatchie, the Coldwater and the Moore Bayou. The site became known as “Hill’s Landing.”

In the 1860’s a Jewish immigrant from Germany, Leopold Marks, migrated to Mississippi and sold dry goods as a foot peddler in the thinly settled area between Marks and Friars Point on the Mississippi River. His financial success was remarkable allowing him to purchase the Thomas B. Hill properties.

JohnAQuitmanLeopold Marks was elected as a state legislator from Tunica County. In 1877 he introduced the bill that carved out Quitman County from portions of Tunica, Coahoma, Panola, and Tallahatchie Counties. The name Quitman was given in honor of General John A. Quitman of Mexican War fame. The area of Hill’s Landing was selected to be the county seat and was renamed “Belen” in commemoration of the battle at Belen Gates, Mexico. In that battle General Quitman bravely climbed the fortifications and replaced the United States flag over Belen Gates after it had been shot down by the enemy.

Antebellum & Civil War

Marks was founded after the Civil War in 1877. However, during the Civil War, the Coldwater River was used by Grant for his Yazoo Expedition to flank Vicksburg. A flotilla carrying some 7,000 troops accompanied by two ironclads passed through what is now Marks. Some skirmishes occurred along the river but all of Quitman County was considered “wilderness” at the time. There were no towns of significant size. WPA records describe a steamboat that sank just below Marks which could be seen at low water. Owens’ Steamboats and the Cotton Economy records the Tallahatchie wrecked at Cassidy Bayou in 1890.

Post Civil War

Cassidy Bayou Landing and Jamison Landing, both located in Marks vicinity, handled steamboat traffic and a ferry until the expansion of the railroad.

According to WPA records, African American church history began just after the Civil War with the organization of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church in 1865 and Belmont Baptist Church in 1867. These churches are known to pre-date white churches by approximately 40 years in the WPA records.

The Belen site was near the geographical center of the county, but in 1880, because of a land dispute, the supervisors moved the county nine miles west to become the present day Belen. The old site was then called “Old Belen.” Leopold Marks established a small mercantile business in “Old Belen,” established a post office, and changed the site’s name to Marks.

Early 1900s

1906, Leopold Marks laid out a town site and sold lots. The town was incorporated in 1907 with a population of 350. In 1910, an election of the voters of the county caused the county seat to be moved back to Marks from Belen. Fire had destroyed to court house in Belen in 1908. Leopold donated 10 acres for the construction of a new court house in Marks which was completed in 1911.

Marks was originally names Riverside and then changed to Marks in 1907 when the town was founded and the county seat moved here owing to Leopold Marks’ donation of land for the train station.

The settlement grew with the help of Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad which built a line to connect Lake Cormorant, in Desoto County, with Tutwiler, in Tallahatchie County. The “Yellow Dog,” as it was called, carried slow freights until 1905 when it began operating passenger trains.

Mid 1900s

Other towns grew in the county as lands were cleared and the county became productive. Sledge, Darling, Lambert, Belen and Crowder are among the larger of these inland towns. In 1941, PMB Self founded the Riverside Oil Mill in Marks. In the 1960’s it became one of the first crushers of soybeans in the South. Crushing 60,000 bushels a day made it one of the largest crushers in the world.

The train had the biggest impact on the development of Marks. Bunge (former Riverside Oil Mill) was the primary user of the train in Quitman, and Kentucky-Tennessee Clay Company is second largest with its clay mining and refining business. The Savory Hotel (later names the Marks Hotel) is a building that reflects the heyday of train traffic in Marks as well as the Junction Building and Tio Pepe’s restaurant (the former depot).

Marks has been in the middle of great floods – 1927, 1937, 1950, 1973, 1979, 1991 – but has never been completely under them.

After 1991 the city, with help from the federal government built a ring levee and pumps to prevent future flood damage.  The earthquake of 1812 may have had impact on this area as well. Speculation exists that the Devil’s Racetrack near Lambert (an unusual geologic formation that has become part of the folklore of the region) was caused by this earthquake.

Other significant events include the creation of the Quitman County history by the WPA in 1936. According to WPA records, there was also a Rosenwald School established (a school for African American youth created by the Sears founder Julius Rosenwald’s Foundation). The WPA worked on the Negro High School putting a new roof and foundation. The building still exists and is in use.

In 1968, Marks was the starting point of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Poor People Campaign” which was the second phase of the civil rights movement. One of nine “caravans” traveling to Washington, DC, the Marks caravan was named “The Mule Train.”

The city of Marks has always been a city of racial diversity – Jewish Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, German Americans, English Americans and Hispanic Americans – all sharing in the rich Delta traditions of the South. Famous citizens include the musician, Charlie Pride, Auburn University president, Clyde Muse, and CEO and organizer of Federal Express, Fred Smith.

This information is adapted from a paper called “The Early History of Quitman County,” by the late W.A. Cox, the first mayor of Marks, MS., 1907-1909, and an oral history presented in 2007, author unknown.)
Roland L. Freeman chronicles this historic event in his The Mule Train: A Journey of Hope Remembered, (Rutledge Hill Press).
Grady Hillman, Cultural Plan Consultant (2006)
Schools Greenwood Leflore Inc., the Quitman County Board of Supervisors, and the Mississippi Humanities Council

Civil Rights

“I have a dream that the State of Mississippi,
a desert state sweltering with the heat
of injustice and oppression,
will be transformed into an oasis
of justice and freedom.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Marks, Martin and the Mule Train by Dr. Hilliard Lawrence Lackey

In early spring of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,visited Marks, Mississippi, to rally support for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) “Poor People’s Campaign,” a nationwide march to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of economic disparity and persistent poverty. Dr. King was so moved by the desperate conditions in Marks that he promoted it as the starting point for the campaign’s network of traveling groups.

In the weeks following King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, news reporters descended on Marks to report on the “Mule Train” formation and preparation for the journey to Washington. Soon after, caravans of protestors began to slowly move their way toward the East Coast from several locations in
mule-drawn wagons.

SCLC leaders came to Marks to finish the work Dr. King started. Three marches were conducted in the streets, one of which was led by nearly 300 high school students and 13 teachers who left campus in protest of the arrest of one of the SCLC organizers, Willie Bolden, who had been visiting the high school recruiting volunteers for the Mule Train journey. The students and teachers marched though downtown to the jail located behind the county courthouse where the peaceful protest was met with gun butts pointed in their faces by a drove of state troopers wearing riot gear. Several students and teachers were injured and later taken to the nearby hospital.

On May 13, 1968, with weeks of preparation, 115 Quitman County residents, ranging in age from eight months to 70 years old, left Marks traveling in more than a dozen wagons. They crept almost 500 miles over the next month before reaching Atlanta, where people, mules, and wagons were loaded aboard a train bound for Alexandria, Virginia. On June 19, 1968, Quitman County’s famous Mule Train rolled into the nation’s capital and joined the large protest on National Mall.

The world watched as residents from Marks, as well as a reported 50,000 U.S. citizens, participated and marched on Washington on June 19, 1968, addressing anti-poverty issues within the nation. There was a global outpouring of support for this movement that would later be deemed as a memorial to Dr. King.