THE CLAY HILLS 381 THE CLAY HILLS 381 STEEL DYNAMICS, INC. Steel Dynamics, Inc., (SDI) one of the nation’s largest and most successful manufacturers of domestic steel, was founded in 1993. With locations throughout the United States—including six steel mills, eight steel processing facilities, and more—Steel Dynamics generates annual revenue of nearly $9 billion and employs close to 8,000 people. Steel Dynamics purchased this mill in Columbus in September 2014, establishing the SDI Flat Roll Columbus Division. This facility occupies over 1 million square feet and increased SDI’s production capacity by forty percent. The Flat Roll Columbus Division mill, located on a 1,400-acre property in Mississippi’s Golden Triangle, is able to produce more than 3 million tons of steel each year. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEEL DYNAMICS® FLAT ROLLED GROUP, COLUMBUS DIVISION These mills came to specialize in the production of chenille for robes and bedspreads. The Winona mill operated until destroyed by a fire in 1940. Starkville’s John M. Stone Cotton Mill opened in 1902. The Stone Mill had joined the smaller mill that opened at the college’s newly established textile school—the fourth to open in the South—the year before. After the Stone Mill changed owners in 1916, it was renamed the J.W. Sanders Cotton Mill. During the 1920s, after the Sanders Company expanded it, the mill was known for its production of “Starkville Chambray,” which was produced in fourteen colors and exported globally. With the college’s textile school and two mills in town, Starkville worked hard to make itself not only the dairy capital but also a textile technology and manufacturing center for Mississippi. An industrial district, known as the Cotton District, grew up around the mill and stood between the college and the downtown. In addition to the Sanders Mill, it included a cottonseed oil mill, the Cooperative Creamery, the Borden Milk Plant, and many retail businesses, services, and homes. By the early 1930s, it had paved streets and sidewalks, and most houses in the area had electricity, indoor plumbing, and city water. The mill operated until 1962. Mississippi State University acquired the building in 1965 for its Physical Plant Department. In 2015, it reopened as “The Mill at Mississippi State University,” an office, retail, and conference-center development. Early Challenges To Segregation In turn-of-the-century politics, the region’s hill country farmers were drawn to an especially racist brand of Progressivism embodied first by James K. Vardaman, and then by Theodore Bilbo, two leaders of what has been labeled “The Revolt of the Rednecks.” Passage of the state’s 1902 primary law called for selection of a political party’s nominee to be by popular vote rather than by the party conventions that had always been controlled by a tight-knit group of elites. From then on, candidates had to make popular appeals directly to voters, usually in stump speeches. In the Clay Hills, where the white population had either increased or held its own since the Civil War, these candidates found a loyal following. Many frustrated white farmers had found themselves economically squeezed and sometimes pushed to become sharecroppers, and they listened to the political rhetoric that cast African Americans and the land-owning planters as scapegoats for all that ailed them.