Coahoma County was chartered February 9, 1836, following the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, and constitutes one of the numerous counties formed from the Choctaw Cession of 1830. The County derives its name from the Choctaw word “Co-i-humma” meaning red panther. This name was indicative of a large number of panthers then infesting the upper regions of the Delta.
Hernando DeSoto was on a personal quest for gold in the New World when he discovered the Mississippi River in 1541. DeSoto first looked out over the “great river” at Sunflower Landing in what would become, three centuries later, Coahoma County.
Clarksdale, founded by John Clark in 1848, was incorporated in 1882 and is now the major city in the County. Located at the head of navigation on the Sunflower River, many of Clarksdale’s businesses were built fronting this stream. The original site of Clarksdale was also the former intersection of two important Indian routes: The Chakchiuma Trade Trial which ran northeastward to old Pontotoc, and the Lower Creek Trade Paths which extended westward from Augusta, Georgia to New Mexico.
In 1892 Clarksdale became one of the seats of Coahoma County when a controversy of more than ten years was compromised by the passage of an act of the Legislature. This act divided the County into judicial districts with two seats of the justice: one at Friars Point, the other at Clarksdale. In 1930, the two judicial districts were abolished and Clarksdale became the county seat. Frequent floods, a fire in 1889, and very poor roads retarded the early growth of Clarksdale. Since 1900 Clarksdale’s growth has been consistent, and it is now one of the largest cities in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta.
In the early 20th century, Clarksdale was known as the “Golden Buckle of the Cotton Belt” and was home to a multi-cultural mixture of Lebanese, Italian, Chinese, and Jewish immigrant merchants along with African-American farm laborers and white plantation owners.
The first cotton crop commercially produced entirely by machinery, from planting to baling, was grown during the year 1944 on 28 acres owned by the Hopson Planting Company of Clarksdale, Mississippi. The soil was prepared, crop seeded, and cultivated by machines, weeds eradicated by flame, and the crop harvested with a mechanical picker. This technological advancement quickly revolutionized American agriculture and had far-reaching economic and social implications for the cotton industry worldwide and particularly for the Mississippi Delta.
Whereas previously the area’s sprawling plantations were worked largely by African-American workforce, the rapid mechanization of cotton production made these underpaid workers expendable. This change, concurrent with the return of many African American GIs from World War II, accelerated what came to be known as The Great Migration to the north, the largest movement of Americans in U.S. history. The Illinois Railroad operated a large depot in Clarksdale which quickly became a primary departure point for many African-Americans in the area.
The African American exodus from Mississippi was recounted with Clarksdale triangulated with Chicago and Washington D.C. in the award-winning book, “The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America.” “The Promised Land” was later produced as a documentary film series by the History Channel narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, who is also a co-owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.
Clarksdale has served as home at one time or another to musicians and playwrights such as Muddy Waters, W.C. Handy, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cook, Robert Johnson, playwright Tennessee Williams, Ike Turner, the Staple Singers, the Five Blind Boys, and many others. Coahoma County (Friars Point) was the birthplace of late great Country & Western singer, Conway Twitty.
After the original City charter in 1882, Clarksdale functioned for a time with a police board. So far as can be determined the first official city board was elected in 1888 and took office in 1889. In 1890 the city was re-chartered and the second city administration was elected and inducted under the revised law.