Mississippi Chemical Corporation earns historic marker

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

It is an icon within Yazoo’s rich history, taking root in the 1940s and bringing a wealth of both money and people to the rural community.

Tales of her success and impact can still be heard within the people who continue to call Yazoo home to this day.

And now a marker has been given to the agricultural giant that will forever be known as “the chemical plant.”

Mississippi Chemical Corporation was awarded a historical marker surrounded by faces of her past and present last Monday.

Mississippi Chemical Corporation was organized as a farmers' cooperative under the leadership of Owen Cooper in 1948. Two years later, the company became the first cooperative in the world to build its own nitrogen fertilizer plant with a towering presence in Yazoo City, where it would locate its operations.

Mississippi Chemical’s history began in times of desperation. Following World War II, farmers were in dire need of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers to increase their crop yields and profits. But in the aftermath of war, it practically did not exist.

Farmers soon started banding together to find a way to overcome the challenges they were facing. It wasn’t until 1947 when the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation began organizing the movement behind what would be known as the Mississippi Chemical Corporation.

Jo Prichard, in Making Things Grow: The Story of Mississippi Chemical Corporation, said his father was a member of the Mississippi Farm Bureau board of directors. That same board hired Cooper “to bring new economic lifeblood to farm families. Mississippi Chemical was their most courageous and ambitious undertaking.”

On June 27, 1947, with the urging of about 600 farmers, the Bureau board made the decision to research the idea of farmers’ building their own nitrogen fertilizer facility.

The late Sue Tatum, Cooper’s secretary at the Bureau and later an officer at MCC, recalls being present at the meeting when the idea first emerged.

“I remembering thinking to myself, ‘these folks are whistling in the dark. Farmers are not going to do this,’” she said, in Prichard’s book. “After all, most farmers didn’t have much money, and most of them were not open to new ideas. I couldn’t believe farmers could be moved to something of this magnitude for themselves.”

According to records, “after approving the project, a Farm Bureau board committee initiated the most extensive stock sales drive in Mississippi's history, a necessary step in financing the plant's construction. The goal was to raise $4 million. Meanwhile, confident that the necessary funds would be raised, on October 27, 1948, farmers and farm leaders from six southern states formally organized and chartered Mississippi Chemical as a cooperative and, in November, hired Cooper as CEO and president. The new 22-member board selected Yazoo City as the site for the new plant.”

The facility was completed in 1951, making Mississippi Chemical the world's first cooperative to build a nitrogen production plant.

And then the boom hit Yazoo City.  With MCC came construction, jobs, money and people. And a product in demand with Yazoo City’s name on it.

“I remember, when I was in the eleventh grade, seeing the first big bags of fertilizer displayed in store windows downtown,” said author Willie Morris. “I was back in the composing room of the old Herald office on Main Street, working on the school newspaper, The Flashlight. I heard a small commotion up front. I rushed out just in time to help drag in the bulging 100-pound MCC bag.”

And with MCC came families, ready to work. And with families, the rest follows.

“When we arrived in Yazoo City, we were ‘those new people in town,’” Tatum said. “I believe most Yazooans were glad to have us; but their comments reflected the fact that Yazoo hadn’t seen many new folks over the years, and change came slowly. Twenty-five years later, they were still referring us to the new folks in town.”

At the time of MCC’s emergence into the community, there was very little affordable housing available. Country Club Drive, Woodland Hills, Highland Drive, Clubview and Sunset would come later as MCC and Yazoo grew together.

 “Most importantly, between 1952 and 1972, the company set up a network of delivery terminals across the South,” records show. “It also increased its output of chemicals, building new plants, notably the $12 million Kellogg ammonia plant built at Yazoo City in 1966. In that same year, Cooper and LeRoy Percy formed Mississippi Action for Progress, the first-of-its-kind partnership of black and white businessmen. Two years later, in 1968, the company completed its new headquarters building in Yazoo City.”

Through the decades that followed, MCC expanded and diversified its operations. But with the agricultural world and its demand changing, MCC’s history would eventually come to an end.

CF Industries now continues what MCC began decades ago. One of the largest employers in Yazoo County, the facility has a reputation for a quality product and believes in the future with a number of multi-million expansions.

MCC’s story and history remain in the blood and the soil that make Yazoo County. A marker will remind future generations of the idea behind an incredible venture, the Mississippi Chemical Corporation.

But it’s is also her people and the trailblazers behind her who also made history. The enduring values of her founders and the commitment with her employees and Yazoo will never be forgotten.