The Mississippi Delta, also known as the Yazoo–Mississippi Delta, or simply the Delta, is the distinctive northwest section of the U.S. state of Mississippi (and portions of Arkansas and Louisiana) that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. The region has been called "The Most Southern Place on Earth" ("Southern" in the sense of "characteristic of its region, the American South"), because of its unique racial, cultural, and economic history. It is 200 miles (320 km) long and 87 miles (140 km) across at its widest point, encompassing about 4,415,000 acres (17,870 km2), or, almost 7,000 square miles of alluvial floodplain. Originally covered in hardwood forest across the bottomlands, it was developed as one of the richest cotton-growing areas in the nation before the American Civil War (1861–1865). The region attracted many speculators who developed land along the riverfronts for cotton plantations; they became wealthy planters dependent on the labor of enslaved African Americans, who composed the vast majority of the population in these counties well before the Civil War, often twice the number of whites.
As the riverfront areas were developed first and railroads were slow to be constructed, most of the bottomlands in the Delta were undeveloped, even after the Civil War. Both black and white migrants flowed into Mississippi, using their labor to clear land and sell timber in order to buy land. By the end of the 19th century, black farmers made up two-thirds of the independent farmers in the Mississippi Delta.
In 1890, the white-dominated state legislature passed a new state constitution effectively disenfranchising most blacks in the state. In the next three decades, most blacks lost their lands due to tight credit and political oppression. African Americans had to resort to sharecropping and tenant farming to survive. Their political exclusion was maintained by the whites until after the gains of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
The majority of residents in several counties in the region are still black, although more than 400,000 African Americans left the state during the Great Migration in the first half of the 20th century, moving to Northeastern, Midwestern, and Western industrial cities.
As the agricultural economy does not support many jobs or businesses, the region has attempted to diversify. Lumbering is important and new crops such as soybeans have been cultivated in the area by the largest industrial farmers.