Thursday, May 04, 2006

Clyde Kennard

I wish I had the time to make this post better but I wanted to alert our readers to an interesting story about my and Jude's alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi. Recently I read this article by Bill Minor, a journalist who covered Mississippi during the civil rights era and is still going strong today after at least 50 years of writing about my home state.

The article discusses Clyde Kennard who attempted to enroll at Southern Miss (transferring from U. of Chicago) and was set up by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, framed for carrying moonshine in his car. He was convicted of plotting to steal chicken feed, sentenced to seven years for a crime that usually carried a 90 day jail term, and died of stomach cancer a short time later after authorities denied him medical care. We know all of this without a doubt. What we don't know, as Minor points out, is the role of USM president Dr. W.D. McCain. Both Kennard and McCain have buildings named for them on the USM campus.

The article, which was reprinted in the Clarion Ledger, prompted a couple letters to the editor. One which requests an official pardon for Kennard and points readers to this website. The other accuses Minor of "dig[ing] the stain of racism a little deeper into the soul of Mississippi" by "plac[ing] the blame of Kennard's initial problems on Dr. W.D. McCain, a former president of Mississippi Southern (now USM)." What Howard V. Blair of Mendenhall fails to realize is that Mississippi is stained by the racisim of McCain, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the legislators who created it and the governors who continued to support it.

Bill Minor's columns continue to serve as a reminder that there were good people in our state during the civil rights era. People who stood up to W.D. McCain. People who brought to light the crimes of the Sovereignty Commission. If Mr. Blair needs to blame someone for this "stain," he shouldn't be looking at Bill Minor, he should blame the past leaders and politicians of the state who created that reputation. Bill Minor for many years was one of few bright spots on our state's reputation -- he does indeed help us relive the past, but only to bring justice to those who were denied it many years ago.