186 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI OKATOMA Okatoma Creek is a tributary of the Bouie River and part of the watershed of the Pascagoula River. Okatoma Creek, located near Seminary in Covington County, is a popular recreational draw for canoeing and kayaking. Several rental businesses and camping facilities are located in the area. The creek is the only whitewater stream in Mississippi and offers several class one and class two falls and shoots. PHOTO COURTESY OF VISITHATTIESBURG™ range bomber crews trained for deployment in Laurel. World War II exposed Mississippi’s African American service-men to a world outside of Mississippi where they were not bound by the strict legal and immoral code of segregation. These men proudly fought for their country but returned to find that they remained second-class citizens in their native state. The increasing mechanization of agriculture meant fewer opportunities for sharecroppers and tenant farmers, and when jobs failed to materialize in their home state, more than 434,000 Mississippians, two-thirds of whom were African American, migrated to other states. Between 1880 and 1950, the population of the Pine Belt increased from 71,739 to 296,587. More importantly, Piney Woods residents constituted 13 percent of the state population, up from only 6 percent seventy years earlier. The increase in wage labor jobs in the Piney Woods attracted workers from all areas of the state, and the urban centers of Hattiesburg and Laurel spurred population growth. By 1950, Jones County (57,235) and Forrest County (45,055) were the most populous counties in the Piney Woods and ranked sixth and tenth in the state in total county population. Hattiesburg, buoyed by wartime growth, boasted 29,474 residents, while Laurel counted another 25,038. Greene continued to be the least populated county, with only 8,215 residents in 1950. Although African Americans left the state overall in large numbers, they constituted the same percentage of the Piney Woods population in 1950 as they did in 1880: 33 percent. The major issue facing Mississippi from 1945 through 1970 was the equal rights struggle of African Americans. Segregation and disenfranchisement were significant barriers that limited the economic and political power of African Americans. In 1946, President Harry Truman formed a Commission on Civil Rights, which published a 178-page report in 1947. In the wake of the report, Truman issued Executive Orders 9980, which desegregated the federal workforce, and 9981, which desegregated the Armed Forces. These actions sent a clear message that addressing civil rights would be a major part of the post–World War II agenda. These events led to the Dixiecrat movement of 1948, in which white Southern Democrats split from the national party to form their own ticket, with Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright as the vice presidential nominee. Although the party failed to elect a president, it sent the message that Southern Democrats existed in an uneasy relationship with the national party and would fight civil rights measures when it was feasible. In 1951, Hugh White won a second term in the governor’s office, defeating fellow Piney Woods Democrat Paul B. Johnson, Jr. Sensing a challenge to segregation, White pushed a truly separate but equal school system. Since 1890, white schools received a much higher percentage of state dollars for education, and one solution was not only to provide more equal funding for education but to improve Mississippi’s system of public education. In 1953, a special session of the Mississippi legislature passed an equalization measure, which provided for equal pay for white and African American teachers and equal spending on school buses; it also included a building plan to improve African American school facilities. While the measure passed, the legislature withheld appropriations for funding, waiting on a pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued the Brown decision, voting unanimously to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson and paving the way for wholesale integration of public schools. In 1954, a “last resort” amendment passed the legislature and was approved by voters. This measure