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1957: Clyde Kennard go to audio

Clyde Kennard, a former sergeant and paratrooper in the U.S. Army, first attempted to enroll at Mississippi Southern College, now the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Because he was initially turned down, he tried again in 1958 and 1959.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the Sovereignty Commission, with the help of Mississippi Southern's President, William D. McCain, carried out an extensive campaign to force Kennard to withdraw his application. Most of these efforts consisted of getting local black and white "leaders" to persuade Kennard not to enroll. When this failed, school authorities falsely arrested Kennard for the possession of liquor, which had been planted in his car on campus. Later, authorities falsely charged Kennard with stealing chicken feed. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the maximum penalty of seven years at Parchman Penitentiary. Although Thurgood Marshall argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to have Kennard released, the court held up the lower court's decision and Kennard stayed in prison. A few years later he died of cancer, exacerbated by overwork and lack of medical attention in the penitentiary.

audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.    Total time: 59 seconds
In that restaurant was where I met Clyde Kennard. And I remember the day he decided to go out to Southern. And we were really shocked at the fact that he was arrested. Clyde was the kind of person who actually believed in the goodness of man. He thought that he did not need any protection. And we had asked him, you know, "Let someone go with you." And he believed that if you did the things you were supposed to do, everybody else would do the things they were supposed to. He just had no idea of how evil and how entrenched the devil is in people's minds and bodies. So he went off, and subsequently, he was arrested. I never saw Clyde after that."

-- Raylawni Branch
(In 1965, Raylawni Branch, along with Elaine Armstrong, became the first black student at the University of Southern Mississippi.)