Sansing’s History of Calhoun County, Mississippi

David Sansing was—and remains—a towering figure among Mississippi historians. A native of Greenville, Sansing received his Bachelor and Masters degrees from Mississippi College and his PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi. He began teaching at Ole Miss in 1970. Sansing wrote about various aspects of the state’s history in eleven books. He wrote this history of Calhoun County in 1959 for his master’s thesis at MC.

Why Sansing, a Delta native (and of Greenville at that) chose Calhoun County, which is in the hill country of the state, for his thesis study presents something of a mystery to those of us familiar with Delta/hill contention, but he give us a clue: “Calhoun County has changed very little in the last fifty years.” Perhaps for Sansing, the county provided the opportunity to document a place thus far sheltered from the winds of change he saw coming swept through the state. We natives of Calhoun should take great pride in having our past documented by a giant of Mississippi history.

David Sansing: A History of Calhoun County

Photo by Robert Jordan

Savoring Sansing

David Sansing gave me hell when I was at Ole Miss. It didn’t help that he knew my parents and probably assumed it part and parcel of his consideration of them to single out their wayward son for what he doubtless considered the academic equivalent of “tough love”, but no matter how attentive I was in class or how good my grades, I always felt targeted for seemingly innocuous but loaded questions that ended up with a subtle and solemn sort of tsk-tsking.

As time went on, I realized I wasn’t the only slacker he picked on; in retrospect, I think Sansing considered it his God-given duty to inspire every student he taught with a profound respect for the Muse of Mississippi History (bless her tattered soul). He is a marvelous teacher. What made Sansing even more formidable in the classroom is his leonine demeanor, the high, noble brow framed by curling swept-back hair; he is the very picture of an academic, moreover one who if he should ask you what the Black and Tan Convention was, and you respond that it was a craft beer festival, you likely won’t live to tell of it.

The title essay confirms Sansings command of his subject in sturdy prose that crackles with authority and sets forth his theme: “Poverty and prejudice and illiteracy have kept Mississippi back, and backwards, but The Other Mississippians have battled poverty and prejudice throughout our history. And for every Mississippi politician who has shamed its name, there have been others to make it proud.” And in the initial passage of “History of Northern Mississippi” Sansing describes the singular mystique of the state he loves:

Any standard historical atlas of the United States will indicate to the most casual observer that there is a political and geographic subdivision designated Mississippi. There are fifty such subdivisions, and collectively they constitute the United States. However, Mississippi is not just a state of the Union. It is a state of mind; it is more than a constituency, it is a condition.”

“History of Northern Mississippi” was presented as the opening lecture at the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in 1974, and I find it germane that Sansing’s dissertation at Mississippi College (1959) was “A History of Calhoun County, Mississippi”. “History of Northern Mississippi”, along with the later essay “Professor B.L.C. Wailes: A Forgotten Man of the Old South” represent two of the finest examples of historical writing to be found in our literature, a subject that also comes under Sansing’s expansive attention along with the Meredith Crisis, the Mississippi state flag, the University of Mississippi and tributes to the likes of L.Q.C. Lamar, Arch Dalrymple III, John Leslie, Bill and Carroll Waller, Professor Guyton and others.

Former students will delight in hearing Dr. Sansing’s voice thundering off the pages and students of Mississippi history across the globe would be tragically remiss if this entertaining, edifying and authoritative work doesn’t find a place on their bookshelf. You will find yourself picking up David Sansing’s The Other Mississippi again and again for great writing and heartfelt history.