Belzoni (/bɛlˈzoʊnə/ bel-ZOHN-ə) is a city in Humphreys County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region, on the Yazoo River. The population was 2,235 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Humphreys County. It was named for the 19th-century Italian archaeologist/explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
The area was named Farm-Raised Catfish Capital of the World in 1976 by then Governor Cliff Finch, since it produces more farm-raised catfish than any other U.S. county. About 40,000 acres (160 km2) of the county are under water in ponds used to grow catfish. About 60% of U.S. farm-raised catfish are grown within a 65-mile (100-km) radius of Belzoni. The title "Catfish Capital" is also claimed by Savannah, Tennessee, Des Allemands, Louisiana, and Selkirk, Manitoba. Belzoni is known for the World Catfish Festival held every April.
The area that eventually became Belzoni was originally known as "Greasy Row" because of saloons along the bank of the Yazoo River, which was the main transportation route until replaced by railroads. In 1895, a charter was granted for the village of Belzoni, although the area had been settled by European Americans and African Americans for several decades previously. It was developed for cotton plantations before the Civil War and relied on agriculture well into the 20th century. Steve Castleman, who secured the charter, was elected as the first mayor of Belzoni. When Humphreys County was formed by the state legislature in 1918, Belzoni was selected as the county seat.
Belzoni was the site of the murder of an early civil rights pioneer. The Rev. George W. Lee, an African American minister who was seeking voting rights for the disenfranchised blacks of the Mississippi Delta and registered to vote, was murdered in 1955 in "Bloody Belzoni" by white residents committed to upholding segregation. His killers were never found, as the governor of Mississippi, Hugh L. White, refused to investigate the case. Many consider Lee the first martyr of the modern civil rights movement.
As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, Margot Adler, later a National Public Radio correspondent, was active in the voter registration drive in Humphreys County (Belzoni) in the summer of 1965, before the passage of the Voting Rights Act on August 6 of that year. In 2000, she recalled:
"I remember how difficult it was to register people: the fear was palpable. I remember that after one month of daily work there were only seven people registered, and a bunch of us almost got ourselves killed after being chased onto private property by a group of men who belonged to the White Citizens Council". She said that the civil rights movement changed Humphreys County, and bettered the lot of African Americans. "There was real change in Belzoni. Streets were paved in hog town, sewers no longer overflowed into the dirt streets. Several black families I knew from then have held political office during the last decade".
In 2006, Belzoni elected Wardell Walton as mayor, the first African-American to hold the position. He was re-elected to a second term. He was succeeded in 2013 by Lenora Sutton, the first female mayor of Belzoni.
Belzoni's role in history has been recognized primarily through historical marker campaigns. The Mississippi Blues Trail has two markers located in city limits: one for Denise LaSalle, who spent her childhood in Belzoni; and another for Turner's Drug Store, an early sponsor for radio shows that broadcast Delta blues, and location of some performances by native artists Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James. There is a marker for Reverend George Lee as part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, detailing his contribution to the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi, located near his burial site. In 1990, the local African-American community placed concrete markers on each side of George Lee Avenue.
Other attractions located in Belzoni include the Catfish Museum; Jaketown Museum, which contains artifacts of a nearby Native American mound; Mama's Dream World, a museum commemorating Ethel Wright Mohamed; and Wister Gardens, a local garden highlighting local flowers and plant life, often used for events in the area.
In the early-2000's, the city, in conjunction with the Humphreys County Art Council and Belzoni-Humphreys Development Foundation, sponsored the art project Catfish on Parade, a collection of fiberglass catfish decorated by local artists. Each catfish's design is based on a reference to its specific commercial sponsor ("D. Fin-Der, Esquire" sponsored by a local law firm) or on a theme chosen by that sponsor ("Fishin' for Words", detailing works and images of famous Mississippi writers).
Belzoni is located at 33°10′53″N 90°29′09″W (33.1813, -90.4857).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.0 square mile (2.6 km2), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,663 people, 934 households, and 640 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,777.8 inhabitants per square mile (1,072.5/km2). The 1,018 housing units averaged 1,061.9 per square mile (410.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 30.49% White, 68.08% African American, 0.04% Native American, 0.64% Asian, 0.60% from other races, and 0.15% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.35% of the population.
Of the 934 households, 33.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.3% were married couples living together, 28.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.4% were not families. 28.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.83 and the average family size was 3.49.
In the city, the population was distributed as 32.2% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 27.3% from 25 to 44, 17.8% from 45 to 64, and 11.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females, there were 85.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $20,690, and for a family was $25,521. Males had a median income of $26,466 versus $15,833 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,022. About 29.3% of families and 35.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 47.4% of those under age 18 and 27.3% of those age 65 or over.
The City of Belzoni is served by the Humphreys County School District:Humphreys County High School
Thomas C. Randle Career and Technical Center
Humphreys Junior High School
O.M. McNair Upper Elementary School
Ida Greene Lower Elementary School
WELZ 1460AM (Country)
WBYP 107.1FM (Country)
The climate in this area is characterized by relatively high temperatures and evenly distributed precipitation throughout the year. According to the Köppen climate classification system, Belzoni has a humid subtropical climate, Cfa on climate maps.Lawrence Gordon, film producer and former president of 20th Century Fox and American International Pictures
Madolyn Hardy, first Miss Mississippi in 1934
Elmore James, blues guitarist
Denise LaSalle, blues singer
Ethel Wright Mohamed, 'Grandma Moses of Stitchery'
Pinetop Perkins, blues musician
Benjamin Swan, member of Massachusetts House of Representatives
Monroe Swan, Wisconsin State Senate
Jean Terrell, R&B and jazz singer, replaced Diana Ross in The Supremes in 1970
Herb Washington, track and field athlete and Major League Baseball player
Annette Polly Williams, Wisconsin State Assembly
Sonny Boy Williamson II, also known as Rice Miller, blues harmonica player