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This coming Monday night, PBS's "Independent Lens" will show a documentary, Spies of Mississippi, which "reveals the full scope of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission’s efforts to preserve segregation during the 1950s and ‘60s — when its network of informants spied on over 87,000 Americans — as it covered up violence and murder in order to preserve the status quo."

The story of the Sovereignty Commission is fascinating and creepy at the same time. A "secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain “the Mississippi way of life,” white supremacy, during the 1950s and ‘60s. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) evolved from a predominantly public relations agency to a full-fledged spy operation, spying on over 87,000 Americans over the course of a decade."

It was created in 1956 and, although it ceased operation in 1973, was not formally abolished until 1977. At that time the Commission's records were sealed. Since then, a court battle to have the records opened resulted in United States District Court Judge William H. Barbour, Jr.'s order to open all Commission records not involved in litigation to the public.


A full text version of the Commission's records can be viewed on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History's website.  It's searchable by name, or you can just browse.  The photographs include mug shots of the Freedom Riders who were arrested in Jackson, MS at the bus station (for integrating buses).

MDAH: "The bulk of the originals were paper, including investigative reports, correspondence, speeches and a large amount of published material. Investigative reports concerned requested inquiries into specific incidents, individuals or organizations or consist of an overview of several communities or counties visited by Commission investigators. "

It's eerie for me to search on people's names and read these documents, proof that the State was spying on them - people I knew.  I had no idea that was happening.  

Originally posted to NinetyWt on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 03:15 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and RaceGender DiscrimiNATION.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What a shameful episode in America. Worth a watch (9+ / 0-)

    on PBS.

    Republicans are like alligators. All mouth and no ears.

    by Ohiodem1 on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 03:34:12 PM PST

  •  Who did these people think they were - (8+ / 0-)

    the Chicago Police Dept. Red Squad?

    I volunteered at the American Friends Service Committee for a while.  First day there the head of the office took me inside, thanked me for volunteering, and informed me that I should expect that anything I said in their office would be recorded on wire taps.  (By then they'd won their first case compelling the Chicago PD to admit they had bugged the offices.)

    Met one guy who had been active in the Vietnam anti-war movement who'd gotten his files (or at least what they released) which were so enormous that they wouldn't fit into a 4-drawer file cabinet.

    The files had been edited to remove the name of informants, and he found it amusing to try to remember who had been at various meetings to figure out who the spies were.  He was especially amused at the number of meetings where his name was the only one that wasn't blanked out.

    Kind of a new type of paranoia where everyone you know is spying on you.

  •  Spies (3+ / 0-)

    I found my name and address on the list. The photocopy showed what appears to be a copy of a letter suggesting persons for a board. Copy perhaps supplied by a clerical worker. I knew, at this date, only some names. I am proud to be associated even so slightly with Mr. Aaron Henry, Minister Bob (William sic) Butts, and the famous Fannie Lou Hamer whom I met several times. I was forced from my job with a state college and never was able to find a teaching job again.

    •  Hamer did so much for Mississippi. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Polly Syllabic, RiveroftheWest

      We're forever in her debt.  

      •  I suspect you don't understand how that all worked (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        And still works. Pressure is applied from all sides, to family, friends, even acquaintances, especially your employer. Families are split, careers are destroyed.  Butts moved to Chicago. Fannie Lou Hamer died of hypertension aged 59 acc to wiki, in what was said then to be the only all-black "city" in the US. As an employee of a sub-unit of the state, I was an easy target. But it didn't stop there. One prospective employer out-of state told me "in private" that she asked  the college department head why I was let go and he answered, "I can't tell you that." Unknown was worse. I didn't get the job, or any job. For two and a half years the only work I could get was out-of-state as a salesman on commission. Every morning no job at all. When I told a rare interviewer why I was let go and answered, "Because I was in favor of integration," I was not fully believed. Must be troublemaker, malcontent, etc. maybe even communist.
             When asked, "Who will answer?" and out of conscience a person answers, "I will" there is a coming personal price to pay, by you and your family, your friends. The opposite, "Go along to get along," is widely followed, known to be savvy. Nakedly this is America, and not just Mississippi or a film about it. This was medieval societies. This is most religions. Fit in or it will cost you in certain ways.
             I would say that if you sent Fannie Lou meaningful money, or someone like her, or gave them a job, then you are not part of the complicity that grinds people down. If you do neither then you are a part.
             When jobless with no ready way to buy the baby Isomil, I was permanently impressed with the power of a complicit society, especially institutions, and likewise I wonder if Fannie Lou's hypertension went untreated. It's roiling cause is still with us.
             As I began above, "And still is."

        •  I'm curious, why do you suspect (0+ / 0-)

          that I don't understand how all that worked?

          •  NinetyWt, Nothing personal there. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NinetyWt, RiveroftheWest

            Addressed to anyone, as most persons do not understand the means of suppressing dissent, look back as on episodes. When the words got your attention that was all they were meant to do, as others will read your diary and its comments.
            I don't quarrel with liberals. You are not disagreeable.

            What I'm curious about is if or how I got the money to buy the Isomil for the baby with painful colic. Of course I know. I got some of my nicest books right then and sold what I could on the sidewalk for quarters.

            I intend, fifty years later, for bitterness to come through  those little paragraphs. To quote Mrs. Hamer, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

            •  It's true that I was just a child in those days. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I was born in MS in 1960. But I do remember how that society was.  And although my privilege kept me separated from intimate knowledge of what it was like to be the one who was marginalized and terrorized, I was witness to much ugliness.

              I know how people were bullied and tormented - in public - and nobody batted an eye, it was normal life.  I don't think that most people nowadays get that (if they didn't either live through it or witness it).  

              I don't blame you for your bitterness.  It would be hard not to be.

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