1956 March 29

Mississippi Creates State Sovereignty Commission to Fight Civil Rights


The Mississippi legislature on this day established the State Sovereignty Commission as an official agency to fight the Civil Rights Movement — and the racial integration of public schools in particular. The Commission’s official purpose was to “do and perform any and all acts deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi and her sister states . . . from perceived encroachment thereon by the federal government . . . .” It was later revealed that the Sovereignty Commission employed private investigators to collect information on civil rights activists, which was used to harass them and civil rights activities.

The Sovereignty Commission was one part of the program of “massive resistance” by southern states to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Other efforts included the “Southern Manifesto,” signed by 100 members of Congress on March 12, 1956; an Alabama law requiring the disclosure of the names of members of organizations (but particularly the NAACP), struck down by the Supreme Court on June 30, 1958; a set of Virginia laws that attempted to restrict the legal work of the NAACP, passed on September 29, 1956; and the closing of the entire school system in Prince Edward County, Virginia, rather than integrate, on May 1, 1959.

Watch the documentary film: The Spies of Mississippi (2014)

Read: Rick Bowers and Eva Absher, The Spies of Mississippi (2010)

Learn more about the Sovereignty Commission at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History: http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/sovcom/

Learn more: George Lewis, Massive Resistance: The White Response to the Civil Rights Movement (2006)

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