Sumner, Mississippi

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Sumner, Mississippi
Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner
Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner
Location of Sumner, Mississippi
Location of Sumner, Mississippi
Sumner, Mississippi is located in the United States
Sumner, Mississippi
Sumner, Mississippi
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 33°58′12″N 90°22′11″W / 33.97000°N 90.36972°W / 33.97000; -90.36972Coordinates: 33°58′12″N 90°22′11″W / 33.97000°N 90.36972°W / 33.97000; -90.36972
CountryUnited States
 • Total0.55 sq mi (1.42 km2)
 • Land0.55 sq mi (1.42 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
141 ft (43 m)
 • Total316
 • Estimate 
 • Density485.45/sq mi (187.46/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)662
FIPS code28-71520
GNIS feature ID0678403

Sumner is a town in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. The population was 407 at the 2000 census. Sumner is one of the two county seats of Tallahatchie County. It is located on the west side of the county and the Tallahatchie River, which runs through the county north-south. The other county seat is Charleston, located east of the river. Charleston was the first county seat, as settlement came from the east, and it is the larger of the two towns.

The Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner was the site in 1955 of the trial of two men charged with the lynching murder in August of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago who was visiting his great-uncle in Money, Mississippi. The all-white jury acquitted the men; a few months later, they sold their story to Look magazine, and admitted killing Till.

The courthouse has been restored. It also houses the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, which opened in 2012 in his honor.


Sumner is located at 33°58′12″N 90°22′11″W / 33.97000°N 90.36972°W / 33.97000; -90.36972 (33.969867, -90.369636).[3]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.6 square miles (1.6 km2), all land.


The heavily wooded swamp along the Tallahatchie River was historically part of the Choctaw Nation, one of the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast. Ceding large amounts of territory to the United States, they were forced to remove to Indian Territory in the 1830s under the Indian Removal Act.

Afterward the US government sold the lands to European-American families. Among the early settlers were the Sumner family. The bottomland was covered by trees, vines, and underbrush when the pioneers started clearing the land for agriculture. The wealthiest men developed their property through the labor of enslaved African Americans. Their work on cotton plantations produced the commodity crop that was the basis of the economy for decades.

Sumner was not incorporated until 1900; it was named after its founder and first mayor, Joseph Burton Sumner. In 1902 the county was divided into two districts, on either side of the Tallahatchie River, which was a barrier to cross-county transportation. Charleston was the original county seat, located east of the river in the first area of European-American settlement. Sumner was designated as the seat of the western district.

The Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner was built in 1902 on a lot donated by Joseph B. Sumner, who also donated the lot for the jail. The courthouse burned in 1908 and was rebuilt in 1909. Cotton continued to be the major commodity crop of the area well into the 20th century. The county seat also served as the market town for that district.

This courthouse was the site of the 1955 murder trial of two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, charged in the lynching and murder of Emmett Till that year in adjoining Leflore County. (His beaten and mutilated body was found on the bank of the river in Tallahatchie County, so the trial was held here.) The two men were acquitted by an all-male, all-white jury of the murder of Till, a teenage African-American boy from Chicago. The brutality of his murder and the acquittal of the men generated outrage and activism in the nation. He became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and a symbol of the violent persecution suffered by blacks in the South.

In 1990, the courthouse was designated as a state landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. In 2007 the Tallahatchie Board of Supervisors appointed the Emmett Till Memorial Commission to explore commemoration of Till and reconciliation in the area. It made a formal apology to the Till family for their son's lynching. In addition, it undertook to restore the Sumner County Courthouse and adapt it as the site of an interpretive center to commemorate Emmett Till. The center opened in 2012 and is sponsoring a variety of art and historical workshops and events.[4]


The city reached its peak of population in 1940. After that numerous African-American residents left the city and county. Many moved to California and the West Coast during World War II and after, attracted by jobs in the buildup of the defense industries and seeking to escape southern oppression and violence. In addition, mechanization of agriculture had made much farm labor unneeded. African Americans moving from Sumner were part of the Great Migration, by which some 5 million blacks moved out of the Deep South from 1940 to 1970. Rural populations have continued to decline in many areas.

Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)267[2]−15.5%
U.S. Decennial Census[5]

As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 407 people, 148 households, and 105 families residing in the town. The population density was 726.5 people per square mile (280.6/km2). There were 158 housing units at an average density of 282.0 per square mile (108.9/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 57.99% White, 39.07% African American, 2.21% Asian, and 0.74% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.25% of the population.

There were 148 households, out of which 31.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.3% were married couples living together, 20.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.4% were non-families. 23.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.67 and the average family size was 3.14.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 27.5% under the age of 18, 6.1% from 18 to 24, 24.8% from 25 to 44, 24.6% from 45 to 64, and 17.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.7 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $25,000, and the median income for a family was $35,208. Males had a median income of $40,625 versus $15,000 for females. The per capita income for the town was $20,056. About 25.2% of families and 37.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 48.9% of those under age 18 and 29.7% of those age 65 or over.

Notable people[edit]

Red Nelson, a noted blues singer, was born in Sumner in 1907.[7]

World-renowned color photographer William Eggleston grew up on a plantation in Sumner.[8]


The Town of Sumner is served by the West Tallahatchie School District. R. H. Bearden Elementary School and West Tallahatchie High School are the zoned schools.

Prior to 1988 Sumner Elementary School was elementary school for the Sumner and Webb areas and West District Middle School was the area middle school. In 1988 West District Middle became a grade 3-8 school while Sumner Elementary was redesignated for Kindergarten through grade 2 only.[9]

Coahoma Community College is the designated community college.[10]


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  3. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  4. ^ Maya Miller, "Till Interpretive Center Seeks to Rewrite Civil Rights Narrative", Jackson Free Press, 26 August 2015; accessed 27 February 2017
  5. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  6. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  7. ^ "Red Nelson | Biography & History". AllMusic. 1907-08-31. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  8. ^ "Artist William Eggleston of Sumner, Mississippi".
  9. ^ Mikell, Ray S. (1988-08-14). "West Tallahatchie students face longer classes, new staff". The Greenwood Commonwealth. Greenwood, Mississippi. p. 7A. - Clipping from
  10. ^ "Student Residency" (Archive). Coahoma Community College. Retrieved on July 8, 2017. "Out-of-District Resident: A student who does not live within Bolivar, Coahoma, Quitman, Tallahatchie, and Tunica Counties but does live in some other county in Mississippi."