Words and Music

In stories that reshaped the landscape of modern fiction, literary icons from the Hills—or this “postage stamp of native soil” as Nobel-laureate William Faulkner referred to it—helped define contemporary writing in America. Faulkner was born in New Albany and spent most of his adult life in Oxford, which today has become a mecca of southern writing. Discover more about Faulkner’s origins at the Union County Heritage Museum and Faulkner Gardens in New Albany.

Oxford has more recently been home to Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Pulitzer-prize winner Donna Tartt and others, including best-selling author John Grisham. Grisham also spent part of his early career in DeSoto County, Starkville and Oxford. His work is featured in a dedicated area at the Mississippi State University Library. In nearby Columbus, the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center preserves the heritage of one of America’s most-beloved playwrights, who wrote both “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie”.

The stacks of great literature arising from the Mississippi Hills are rivaled only by the volume of great music. Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette became musical icons as the King of Rock’n’Roll and the First Lady of Country Music. West Point’s Chester A. Burnett became blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, who is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. Holly Springs’ R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough birthed their own musical creation called Hill Country Blues. Visitors can readily learn more about Hills’ music at places like the Elvis Birthplace in Tupelo, the Howlin’ Wolf Museum in West Point and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss.

Civil Rights

As the war for freedom came to a close, the fight for equality began. Throughout the 20th century, the Hills’ African American community sent leaders and foot soldiers into the ongoing struggle, inspiring the nation with their courage and determination.

The Ida B. Wells Museum in Holly Springs shares the story of an extraordinary woman, the daughter of slaves who bravely battled lynching. Also at Holly Springs, Rust College (originally Shaw College) was founded on a site where slave auctions were once held, and the

school continues in existence as one of only five remaining historically-black colleges in the U.S. founded before 1866. Almost a century later in 1962, James Meredith’s historic enrollment as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi opened a closed door and provided a significant benchmark for eliminating segregation in Mississippi.

The Education of a Lifetime

In addition to Rust College, another historic institution of higher learning in the Hills is the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, the first publicly-supported college for women in the United States. The W, as it is affectionately referredto, was attended by author Eudora Welty as well as the mothers of both William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.

From Rust to the W, from Ole Miss in Oxford to Mississippi State in Starkville, the Mississippi Hills have a strong tradition of learning. Connect with this tradition and learn more about our fascinating history—while soaking in picturesque small towns and scenic landscapes—on your visit through the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area.