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1956: Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission  go to audio


The Mississippi legislature establishes the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. According to John Dittmer in Local People, this organization was a secret police force that, "owed its primary allegiance to the White Citizens' Council." The Sovereignty Commission operated much like a "small time" FBI, placing informants and spies in civil rights groups so as to prevent any real success within the movement.

audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.      Total time: 51 seconds

What I was trying to be was a practical segregationist as opposed to an unyielding resister or an emotional segregationist because I knew that the time was coming, but I was talking to preserve it by giving the Negro community facilities that they could enjoy themselves so that they would not be wanting ours. I'm talking about swimming pools, tennis courts, or recreational places that I felt that they were entitled to. I said, "In many cases nothing's been done for them, and you can't blame them for wanting to get that which the white people are enjoying, particularly if it's a tax-supported facility."


audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.       Total time: 8 seconds

Our files were set up exactly like the FBI and [the] index system was set up like the FBI.


audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.       Total time: 57 seconds

And the grand idea was that we could turn the Sovereignty Commission into a big public relations agency, with this money matching state money, in order to try to project Mississippi, outside the state, as a good place to be, as a good place to work, as a good place to settle down. To try to overcome—of course, we recognized that one civil rights murder was worse than a hundred blacks getting Ph.D. degrees, you know. 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. We never got anywhere with it.


audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.       Total time: 53 seconds

I happen to know we had a white informant at Tougaloo College. We had a white informant in the Child Development Group [of Mississippi] in the Head Start outfit. I don't know who they were, but I know we had them. And it's real funny. They talk about the Sovereignty Commission having spies, but the FBI was doing the same thing we were doing. And they were gathering intelligence, and we were spying. We gave the FBI a lot of reports. That's the difference, you know. If you were against the Sovereignty Commission, "That's a damn spying outfit." But the FBI was doing the same thing.

audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.      Total time: 53 seconds

OK, you wanted to know, for instance, how we paid communicants. Well, you know good and well that we could not afford to have the state auditor issue a check to any person who was in one of those groups and was furnishing us information, because that's public record down there [in Jackson]. So what we did was we contracted with a private detective agency. Now and then we did have an assignment for them that we didn't want one of our investigators to be involved in it. Then, too, if we had somebody that we needed to pay fifty bucks to, the agency would bill us for special services, fifty dollars.


-- Erle Johnston, former director of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission