The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: Civil Rights and States Rights

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Ross Robert Barnett Governor of Mississippi John Bell Williams Governor of Mississippi William Lowe Bill Waller Sr. Governor of Mississippi It came in the wake of the May Brown v.

Board of Education of Topeka public school desegregation ruling by the U. The Supreme Court ruling sent shock waves among people who believed in the separation of the races.

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Like other southern states in the United States, Mississippi responded to Brown with legislation to strengthen the legal walls of separation. Shrouded in the rhetoric of state's rights, the act creating the Sovereignty Commission provided the agency with broad powers.

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The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: Civil Rights and States' Rights [ Yasuhiro Katagiri] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: Civil Rights and States' Rights Chapter 1 To Protect the Sovereignty of the State of Mississippi The Origins of.

The governor of Mississippi was appointed ex-officio chairman in the governor was J. Ex-officio means a person serves by virtue of the office he or she holds. Other ex-officio members were the president of the Mississippi Senate as vice chairman, the state attorney general, and the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. In addition, members of the commission included three citizens appointed by the governor from each of the Mississippi Supreme Court districts; two members from the Senate, appointed by the president of the Senate; and three members from the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker.

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The governor, attorney general, and legislators served on the commission during their tenures in office. The three members appointed by the governor served for the duration of the governor's term.

Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission

The commission itself was a small agency with a staff of a director, public relations director, investigators, and clerical staff. In addition, throughout its existence the commission used both paid and unpaid informants to supplement its investigation team. The commission also used private detective agencies to conduct investigations.

As the state's official tax-funded agency to combat activities of the Civil Rights Movement, the commission performed many duties. Although varied, these tasks can be divided into three general functions: For seventeen years, from to , the commission spied on civil rights workers, acted as a clearinghouse for information on civil rights activities and legislation from around the nation, funneled money to pro-segregation causes, and distributed right-wing propaganda.

While these core functions remained consistent throughout the life of the agency, the relative importance of each function and the execution of duties reflected not only the expertise of each director, but more importantly, the preference of the successive governors.

The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: An Agency History

Coleman , the first governor to head the commission, favored the low-key approach through the public relations function. Above all, Coleman tried to cultivate an image of Mississippi in which race relations were good and citizens were law abiding.

Consequently, the commission sought to put a lid on situations that might tarnish this image. Coleman did not allow the commission to channel money to the Citizens' Council, a grassroots pro-segregation movement.

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His successor, Governor Ross Barnett , expanded the investigative function of the commission. Commission investigators toured the state and wrote reports on civil rights activities of individuals and organizations, including scrutinizing reading material and libraries. The rumor mill and race baiters fed the commission, and anyone who appeared to transgress racial lines or espouse a vaguely liberal perspective was likely to be brought to its attention.

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Barnett's expanded role for the commission also included funding for the Citizens' Council. During the tenure of Governor Paul B. It was a spy agency and a propaganda machine. Formed in by the Mississippi legislature, the Sovereignty Commission hired investigators and local informants to monitor and disrupt civil rights activities across the state.

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Although the next governor, William Waller authorized programs of the commission and appointed new members, he was absent from meetings. Support American RadioWorks with your Amazon. The court made some provisions to protect the privacy of citizens who had been investigated. The persons documented were classified as "victims", those who had been investigated, or ", persons who had worked for the Commission or cooperated with its activities. For a time it was under the direction of attorney Frank Voelker, Jr.

It kept surveillance files on scores of people reputed to be involved in civil rights organizations. In , the agency brought 18 journalists from small New England newspapers to Mississippi to see for themselves how well race relations functioned in the South.

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But the idea was that we could try as much as we could to overcome the attitude outside Mississippi that we were a lawless state as far as race was concerned. In fact, the duties of the Sovereignty Commission were quite broad. Sarah Rowe-Sims, an expert on the Sovereignty files, writes: