Yellow Jack's Wrath

The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic and Public Health in Mississippi


  • Kyle Winston Emory University


yellow fever, public health, Mississippi, 1878 epidemic, Grenada Mississippi, United States


During the nineteenth century, yellow fever outbreaks were common for communities in the American South. In 1878, a yellow fever epidemic far exceeded earlier outbreaks in its devastation across the Mississippi River Valley and beyond. While an extensive historiography exists for the effects of the 1878 epidemic on urban areas like New Orleans, Memphis, and Atlanta, historians have largely neglected its impact on rural regions. This paper addresses the rural white and black experiences in Mississippi, using the town of Grenada as a case study. It also examines the conflicts between health and charity advocates over the role of government in public health. Many white supremacists in the South feared that government control over public health would impede their control over their communities. Ultimately, their resistance prevented lasting changes to Mississippi’s public health system. It was only decades later, with the attempt to eradicate hookworms and pellagra (two chronic diseases), that reformers began to create a system in Mississippi that went beyond quarantines alone.