History Is Lunch: Tom Henderson, “Mississippi’s Black Market Liquor Tax”

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Join us at noon on Wednesday, September 23, for another streaming-only #HistoryIsLunch when Tom Henderson will present “Mississippi’s Black Market Liquor Tax.” The program is in conjunction with the Mississippi Distilled exhibit at the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
During the years of prohibition in Mississippi the state had one of the nation’s most controversial tax laws. The Black Market Tax of 1944 was threatened with repeal in every session of the legislature yet survived largely intact for twenty-two years and produced some $20 million of tax revenue.
“The tax was implemented in the midst of World War II ostensibly to discourage the sale of goods needed for the war effort, but from the start it was used almost exclusively to tax illegal liquor,” said Henderson. “Any expectation the tax would deter bootleggers vanished when they realized that paying the tax was like a license to sell liquor in the state where it had been prohibited since 1908.”
Mississippi law allowed the state tax collector to retain ten percent of the tax for operation of the office and to pay salaries, including his own. The Mississippi legislature faced a dilemma: legalizing liquor was too much of a political hot potato to endorse publicly, but the state found itself more and more dependent on the liquor tax revenue—despite being the last dry state in the Union.
Pearl native Tom Henderson holds a BA in history from the University of Southern Mississippi and an MLS from Florida State University. Before retiring as director of the Millsaps College Library he worked as an archivist at the Department of Archives and History, as architecture librarian at Mississippi State University, and as Patent, Trademark, and Government Documents Librarian at the Mississippi Library Commission.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state’s past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building in Jackson. MDAH livestreams videos of the program at noon on Wednesdays on their Facebook page,