On Jan. 1, 2021, Mississippi fully repealed Prohibition statewide by reversing its “dry by default” designation, an act allowing for the possession of alcohol in every county that didn’t have county-specific Prohibition laws on the books. The news may have been surprising to residents outside the Magnolia State — not that it was passed, but when it was passed. After all, history tells us Prohibition ended Dec. 5, 1933, when the 21st Amendment passed and Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered the famous quote, “What America needs right now is a drink.” Technically, this is true. But the repeal of the Volstead Act came with a caveat; one that made its nationwide application a haphazard — and still ongoing — process.
The 21st Amendment nullified federal Prohibition laws, but states were still allowed to keep their own booze-banning mandates on the books. While most states adhered to the new federal regulations, several held onto the 18th Amendment’s teetotaling remnants. The states to hold out included Utah, which kept its own state Prohibition laws intact even though it was, ironically, the necessary 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment and officially put it on the books. Other states weren’t as hypocritical. Both Carolinas voted to reject the amendment; when South Carolina repealed its Prohibition laws in 1935 — two years before North Carolina — Gov. Olin D. Johnson wasn’t too happy about it, stating, “I personally deplore this,” before signing the mandate into existence. Eight other states — Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — didn’t submit votes at all. Five of these indifferent governments caved within a couple years, adapting state-level repeals via legislation that essentially established control of state laws. Three states — Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi — did not, and would not for a long time.
Kansas kept Prohibition on the books until 1948, ending a prolonged statewide ban that began in 1881 and was peppered by the exploits of temperance movement leader and infamous hatchet swinger Carrie Nation. Oklahoma finally repealed Prohibition in 1959, marking the first time its residents could enjoy legal liquor since it attained statehood in 1907. Mississippi clung to statewide Prohibition until 1966, shortly after authorities raided an illicit Mardi Gras ball in Jackson attended by the governor and other members of high society. Despite this repeal, Mississippi was still “dry by default,” meaning its counties were dry unless they specifically voted otherwise. January’s repeal law changed Mississippi’s default setting, enabling counties with no legislation in place to drink up.
Mississippi’s former “dry by default” status wasn’t unique. Kansas and Tennessee still carry the same designation — a byproduct of the 21st Amendment’s state-level loopholes. These same loopholes are the reason why there are still 83 dry counties spread across nine states — including 29 counties in Mississippi that had dry laws in place before the 2021 state mandate went into effect. We may have come a long way since Dec. 5, 1933, but we clearly still have a long way to go.