Fifty years after he attempted to integrate The University of Southern Mississippi, the legacy of the late Clyde Kennard will be celebrated in a symposium hosted by the university’s Center for Black Studies.
“The Southern Roots Symposium: Honoring the Legacy of Clyde Kennard 50 Years Later” will be held Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Shelby F. Thames Polymer Science Research Center Auditorium. Admission is free and campus and local community members are invited to attend.
“The goal of the symposium is to honor the life and sacrifice of Clyde Kennard’s commitment to higher education on the 50th anniversary of his application to the university, and I count it as an honor to be part of another historical event in the great state of Mississippi,” said Dr. Curtis Austin, director of the Center for Black Studies.
Kennard was denied enrollment three times at what was then Mississippi Southern College in 1957, 1958 and 1959 before being sentenced to a seven-year prison term at the Mississippi State Penitentiary for accepting stolen chicken feed, what many believe was a trumped-up charge designed to prevent him from enrolling at MSC. He was the first African-American to attempt to enroll at the then all-white school.
He was granted clemency by Gov. Ross Barnett in 1963 and died of intestinal cancer later that year on July 4 in Chicago. In 2007, Kennard was exonerated in Forrest County Circuit Court, where the charges against him originated.
Symposium speakers include John Frazier, a confidant of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Frazier was also denied admission to the university after Kennard’s attempts. He is a Harvard and Oxford University-trained businessman and real estate innovator, and an invited guest lecturer for the Southern Miss Trent Lott Center’s Innovation Speaker Series in 2007.
Other scheduled guest presenters include civil rights activist and Hattiesburg native Dorie Ladner, who worked with and was a friend of Kennard; and Buford Posey, a native of Philadelphia, Miss. the first white person to join the Mississippi NAACP and one of the few people who wrote a letter of recommendation for Kennard’s application for admission to the university.
Southern Miss student Myron Lott of Hattiesburg said it’s because of individuals like Kennard and Frazier that the university can boast being ranked 39th in the top 100 degree producers for African American baccalaureates
“John Frazier, and all those who struggled and endured the turmoil of the time, pioneered a path to success for not only African American students, but all minority students who enter this university,” Lott said.
In 1993 the Southern Miss Student Services building was named in Kennard’s honor, along with the first African-American student to receive a doctorate at Southern Miss, the late Alcorn State University President Dr. Walter Washington.
The Center for Black Studies encourages and promotes research related to the history and culture of African Americans and facilitates connections between Southern Miss and the various social, political, and economic entities that address the Black experience. It serves as a clearinghouse for local, national, and international agencies seeking interns in areas that relate to the experiences of African Americans and/or the diaspora.
For additional information on the 2009 Southern Roots Symposium or the Center of Black Student Studies please contact Dr. Curtis Austin at 601.266.6973; online visit www.usm.edu/cbs
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.