Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission

Similiar to how the FBI spied on civil rights leaders, the State of Mississippi set up a state agency, a network of spies to actively counter civil rights activities and to preserve white supremacy in the state. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission which was directed by the governor, operated from 1956 to 1977. The Commission was created by the Mississippi Legislature in 1956 in reaction to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The commission's activities included attempting to preserve the state's segregation and Jim Crow laws, opposing school integration, and ensuring portrayal of the state "in a positive light." 

The documentary, "Spies of Mississippi", which aired on PBS's Independant Lens, provides an thought provoking examination of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission; clips from it are shown below.

 

During its existence, the  Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission used a network of spies, including prominent citizens within the black community including ministers and newspaper editors to gather intelligence and profiled more than 87,000 names of people associated with the civil rights movement (which it opposed), and was complicit in the murders of three civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael "Mickey" Schwerner.

The spies of the commission penetrated most of the major civil rights organizations in Mississippi, even planting clerical workers in the offices of activist attorneys. It informed police about planned marches or boycotts and encouraged police harassment of African-Americans who cooperated with civil rights groups. Its agents obstructed voter registration by blacks and harassed African-Americans seeking to attend white schools.

 

Staff of the commission worked closely with, and in some cases funded, the notorious White Citizens' Councils. From 1960 to 1964, it secretly funded the White Citizens Council with $190,000 of state funds. The commission also used its intelligence-gathering capabilities to assist in the defense of Byron De La Beckwith, murderer of Medgar Evers, during his second trial.

The commission officially closed in 1977, four years after Governor Bill Waller vetoed funding. After the agency was disbanded, state lawmakers ordered the files sealed until 2027 (50 years later). After a lawsuit, in 1989 a federal judge ordered the records opened, with some exceptions for still-living people. Legal challenges delayed the records' availability to the public until March 1998. Once unsealed, records revealed more than 87,000 names of people about whom the state had collected information, or included as "suspects." Today, the records of the commission are available online for search.

Mississippi wasn't alone in its efforts and had assistance from the North in carrying out it's policies. The Wall Street Journal article, "How the South's Fight to Uphold Segregation Was Funded by North", describes how larges sums of money were sent from the North to help preserve racial segregation.

 

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