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.