Starkville City Jail and Johnny Cash (1965)
Known officially as the Oktibbeha County Jail, the Starkville City Jail has a unique history and is best known today for one notable inmate, music legend Johnny Cash. Cash spent one night in jail in Starkville in 1965 after being arrested for public drunkenness. Cash had performed two concerts the evening before and was out late at night when he was brought in, fined, and forced to spend the night in jail.
Backstory and Context
The Starkville City Jail is historically notable for being the location where music star Johnny Cash spent the night in jail in 1965. On May 11, 1965, Johnny Cash performed two concerts on the Mississippi State University Campus. One concert was held in the animal husbandry building and the other was held at the university's Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house. After the concerts, Cash spent the night in Starkville, where he was arrested for public drunkenness early in the morning. Cash himself stated he believed the arrest occurred around 2:00 am, but other reports claim it was closer to 5:00 am. Cash was found in the garden of a resident of Starkville, picking flowers for no apparent reason. Cash himself said that he was on his way to get cigarettes and that he
"reached down and picked a dandelion here and a daisy there as (he) went along."1
Johnny Cash's one night spent in the jail in Starkville, Mississippi was the inspiration for his song "Starkville City Jail." The entire incident would likely have been forgotten if Cash had not written the song, immortalizing the night forever. Cash first performed the song "Starkville City Jail" at a concert at San Quentin Prison in California. At this concert, which took place in February of 1969, Cash recounted the story of how he was arrested for picking flowers and forced to spend a night in jail. The song was recorded and released in June of the same year.
The cell where Cash spent the night is still part of the Oktibbeha County Jail. However, the cell was part of the old jail and is now used as a storage closet. Visitors are not able to tour the area because it is still part of a functioning jail. However, visitors are allowed to take pictures of the window of the cell from the outside, allowing them to feel connected to music legend Johnny Cash.
2. Johnny Cash. Sheriff Oktibbeha MS. Accessed August 06, 2019. http://sheriff.oktibbeha.ms.us/history/johnny-cash.
3. Smith Jr., Glenn. Starkville City Jail. Mississippi Encyclopedia. Accessed August 06, 2019. https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/starkville-city-jail/.
4. Sheriff's Department. Oktibbeha County MS. Accessed August 06, 2019. http://www.oktibbehacountyms.org/?q=node/83.