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Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement

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Overview

It was 1956, and the Civil Rights Movement was in Full Swing. Across The Nation, African Americans were Demanding their rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court was ruling in their favor. But a system of segregation rooted in white supremacy had been a way of life for two hundred years in the Deep South, and Mississippi was not changing its ways without a fight. Thus was born a new arm of the state: a secret propaganda, espionage, and dirty tricks agency. It was called the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and ...

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Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement

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Overview

It was 1956, and the Civil Rights Movement was in Full Swing. Across The Nation, African Americans were Demanding their rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court was ruling in their favor. But a system of segregation rooted in white supremacy had been a way of life for two hundred years in the Deep South, and Mississippi was not changing its ways without a fight. Thus was born a new arm of the state: a secret propaganda, espionage, and dirty tricks agency. It was called the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and its mission was simple: to stop racial integration-at all costs.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Della A. Yannuzzi
In 1956, the Civil Rights Movement was growing across the nation. African Americans were demanding their rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court was ruling in their favor. The state of Mississippi, however, resisted. White supremacy had been a way of life in the Deep South, and the state was not willing to change its ways. Consequently, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was born. Its mission was to stop racial integration—no matter how much it cost. Bowers covers the beginning of this program, the reason why it was started, the men who were on the Commission and their roles, the people who suffered, and much more. They and the Sovereignty Commission gathered files on more than 87,000 private citizens and organizations. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission became known as the most extensive state spying program in U.S. history. The chairman of the board that oversaw the Sovereignty Commission was none other than Mississippi Governor, J. P. Coleman. Things started changing when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and when President Johnson signed the bill as part of his program for a Great Society. This new law prohibited segregation in places serving the public. The biggest change was that it allowed the federal government to cut off funds to any government-supported program that practiced racial discrimination. But it was not until 1973 that The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission closed its office and locked its records. Black-and-white photographs and illustrations are included, as well as a bibliography and source notes. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi
VOYA - Sarah Cofer
During the height of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, powerful politicians concerned with preserving segregation at all costs created the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, one of the most extensive and elaborate state-sanctioned spy networks in U.S. history. The Commission served as segregation watchdogs conspiring to undermine the civil rights movement by spying on private citizens, maintaining secret files, and arresting civil rights advocates. Members of the Commission funneled money into white power organizations, forced black-owned businesses to close, interfered with voter registration, and orchestrated murder. The book's intention is to inform readers about this top-secret, conspiratorial, old boys' network that has been conveniently left out of history texts. From the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education ruling to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Bowers engages readers by providing a fast-paced and unique look at the historic events surrounding the racial tension in Mississippi. Key events include Medgar Evers's murder, the Freedom Rides, and attempts (both successful and not) to integrate Mississippi's colleges and universities. Bowers claims to use oral histories, interviews, memoirs, government documents, magazine and newspaper articles as well as the 134,000-page "once-secret investigative file" produced by the Commission to flesh out this story; however, the review copy did not include source notes, footnotes, or bibliographies. It is an informative and fascinating choice for pleasure reading and school assignments, but the vocabulary is challenging and the dozens of names, facts, and events squeezed into this thin book are difficult to keep straight.Reviewer: Sarah Cofer
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—Bowers draws upon archival material, supplemented with his own extensive research, to document the activities of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a Civil Rights-era state agency that disseminated segregationist propaganda and used Soviet-style methods to spy upon, harass, and harm those who challenged white supremacy. He describes how the Commission, formed in 1956 in reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, recruited a wide network of spies and informants, and conspired with elected officials and state and local law enforcement agencies to thwart any progress on civil rights. Bowers details the Commission's tactics, which disregarded constitutional protections for those who supported or aided the cause, and discusses how the scope of its activities quickly escalated from its initial attempts to control or marginalize the NAACP and resist public and school and university integration into outright advocacy of violence and obstruction of justice. He closes with a discussion of how federal civil rights legislation and the threat of financial sanctions resulted in the abolition of the Commission, but warns readers that the bigotry that gave it free rein still exists and could emerge again. Period black-and-white photographs, an appendix with reproductions of selected Commission documents, and an extensive bibliography of books and links to online archives supplement the text. This book's unique perspective will help students understand the previously unknown history of the despicable actions of Mississippi leaders who opposed civil rights and the silent citizens who supported their activities.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior HighSchool, MO
Kirkus Reviews
The year 1956 saw the creation of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a special agency charged with preserving the right of the state to govern itself without interference from the federal government or private pressure groups. In this era, "sovereignty" was code for segregation, and the commission was granted extraordinary powers to investigate private citizens and organizations, make arrests, maintain secret files and force witnesses to testify. Using primary-source materials, including 134,000 pages of documents from the commission's once-secret files, Bowers tells the chilling story of how the Mississippi government systematically created a propaganda machine and statewide spy network and collaborated with such groups as the Klan and the White Citizens' Council to undermine the efforts of civil-rights organizations. He effectively illustrates the desperate and shockingly illegal lengths the commission went to but is less successful in linking it to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the murders of three Freedom Summer volunteers. Compelling and enlightening nonetheless. (index & credits, not seen) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426305955
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 1/12/2010
  • Pages: 120
  • Sales rank: 204,381
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: NC1290L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword vii

Prologue 2

1 The Genesis 3

2 Growing Outrage, Growing Backlash 7

3 The "Bible" 11

4 The Pipeline 15

5 The Delta Blues 33

6 Death of a Dream 27

7 The Savior of Segregation 33

8 The Clandestine War 37

9 Never, Never Land 43

10 Overflowing the Jails 47

11 The Battle for Ole Miss 59

12 In the Dead of the Night 71

13 The Secret Benefactor 79

14 Agent X 83

15 Marked Men 89

16 The Magnolia Curtain 95

17 "Destroy This Directive" 97

What Happened Next 103

Documents 108

Bibliography 114

Index 118

Photo Credits 120

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 17, 2010

    A new wrinkle in the history of the civil rights movement

    I thought I knew the broad outlines of the civil rights movement - but I never knew the extent the state of MS used spies to vilify, diminish and ruin the lives of private citizens. This book highlights a number of cases where Mississippi tossed aside the bill of rights and used a highly efficient spy network to keep tabs on its own black citizens and others. Why? These 'suspicious' folks had the nerve to try to vote, to go to a public school, to use the bathroom at a gas/bus station, to travel freely, to replace a white man in a factory job. The book introduces the Sovereignty Commission files - now on line at MDAH.org - that copiously details every movement of members of the NAACP and CORE during those fateful summers in the early 60's. The story of Clyde Kennard is extremely painful. Read this book, learn from the past. Morn the loss of potential denied to so many. Do better.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2010

    Correction

    The link to the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files should read http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    <3 Me

    I love myself and civil rights, but mostly MYSELF /:-)

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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