Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Scott Sisters; Not the First Time Mississippi Has Mistreated Ill, Black Prisoners

Clyde Kennard, (Photo from Northeastern University archives

Mississippi had a similar, infamous case when it kept a prisoner with cancer working in the fields. He suffered greatly and was finally released just before he died.

Clyde Kennard of Hattiesburg was arrested September 15, 1959 for illegal possession of liquor and speeding. This happened shortly after Kennard was rejected the second time for admission to Mississippi Southern College, now the University of Southern Mississippi.
The Scott Sisters, Jamie and Gladys, were sentenced to double life terms each in prison after being convicted of armed robbery where transcripts conflictingly state that $11 could have been netted. A 14 year old witness for the state testified to being threatened to be made into a woman at Parchman Penitentiary if he did not implicate the sisters. They have served 16 years of this sentence to date.

While Mississippi Sovereignty Commission records show authorities once considered placing dynamite in his car (and a Hattiesburg lawyer offering to run him out of the country), the state finally succeeded in its quest to punish the poultry farmer and U. S. Army veteran when thirteen months later, on November 21, 1960 Kennard was convicted on charges of stealing chicken feed. He was sentenced to Parchman Penitentiary for the maximum penalty of seven years.

NAACP leader Medgar Evers heard of the verdict and told a reporter Kennard’s conviction was “a mockery of justice” for which Evers was arrested, charged with contempt and sentenced to thirty days in jail. The Supreme Court later overturned the conviction. But Kennard was literally beaten and worked to death at Parchman and after becoming seriously ill, he was diagnosed with cancer by the University of Mississippi Hospital.

Returned to Parchman, Kennard was dragged out to work in the fields each day despite his growing weakness. Prison authorities canceled his appointment for a medical checkup and he was not allowed to see his lawyer, Jess Brown. The Jackson attorney asked to receive Kennard’s medical reports but never got them. Tougaloo students mobilized to try and free Kennard, a friend of one of their instructors.

The story was picked up nationally as Dick Gregory and Dr. Martin Luther King demanded Kennard’s release. Finally, in 1963, Governor Barnett ordered Kennard’s release, concerned over potential bad publicity for the state if Kennard died at Parchman. Kennard underwent surgery in Chicago and soon died at Billings Hospital, shortly after he was paroled.

Was it an administrative oversight? Or was it deliberate negligence because of his connection with school integration? These questions, asked by Kennard’s attorney, were never answered. “No one can say for sure. You have to draw your own conclusions,” Jess Brown said.

Clyde Kennard died at the age of thirty-six on July 4, 1963.

Footnote: In one 1959 memorandum found in Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files, commission investigator Zack VanLandingham tells of a conversation he had with a Hattiesburg lawyer, Dudley Connor, about Kennard in the late 1950s.

"If the Sovereignty Commission wanted that Negro out of the community and out of the state they would take care of the situation," VanLandingham quoted Connor as saying. "And when asked what he meant by that, Connor stated that Kennard's carcould be hit by a train or he could have some accident on the highway and nobody would ever know the difference."

In another memo, written by VanLandingham to Gov. J.P. Coleman in 1959, the investigator relates a conversation he had with John Reiter, a campus police officer. "Reiter had several weeks ago told me that when Kennard was attempting to enter Mississippi Southern College in December 1958 that he had been approached by individuals with possible plans to prevent Kennard's going through with his attempt," he wrote.

"One of the plans was to put dynamite to the starter of Kennard's Mercury. Another plan was to have some liquor planted in Kennard's car and then he would be arrested."

So for the Scott Sisters, it appears to be just one more chapter of Mississippi Goddam.
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Some Sovereignty Commission Links Relating To Kennard ...

NAACP Fund Raising Letter For Kennard

Medgar Evers and Kennard

Newspaper clipping on Kennard's Guilty Verdict

Kennard's attempt to enroll in state college

Letter to editor written by Kennard

Kennard's file is large, so there are many more articles to view.

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