How the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Got Started; The "Truth" About the Truth

How does one go about creating such a monstrosity as the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and why? Officially, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, in all of its glory, was created in March 1956 by an act of the Mississippi Legislature, shortly following the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka public school desegregation ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court.

The court ruled that laws enforcing segregated schools were unconstitutional and called for desegregation of schools “with all deliberate speed.”
The Supreme Court ruling angered white Mississippians who believed in the separation of the races and Mississippi responded uniquely to Brown with legislation to strengthen the legal walls of separation.

What the state's official historians leave out of their official version, however, is that Mississippi was under severe federal heat over the number of black people killed, and being killed, in Mississippi. The heat was on because a young Chicago youngsgter, Emmett Till, had been brutally killed in August of 1955 in the Delta. The bad publicity and anger over Till's death was the spark that ignited the modern civil rights movement -- thanks to Mississippi's segregationists, KKK members and others.

I guess that I could believe that some of the feds were actually upset over Till's lynching, and wanted to learn how many other African Americans had been killed, to date. Some early Sovereignty Commission records actually show the "statistical" report send back to the feds.

Some Stats found in the Sovereignty Commission Reports

But what to do ab out this federal intervention over Till, and of course, regarding Brown?

The state of Mississippi simply created its own Central Intelligence Agency.

Hiding behind rhetoric of state's rights, the act creating the Sovereignty Commission provided the agency with broad powers with the objective was to “do and perform any and all acts and things deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi, and her sister states” from a perceived “encroachment thereon by the Federal Government or any branch, department or agency thereof; to resist the usurpation of the rights and powers reserved to this state and our sister states by the Federal Government or any branch, department or agency thereof.” This commission was granted extensive investigative capabilities, historians state.

The governor of Mississippi was appointed ex-officio chairman (in 1956 the governor was J. P. Coleman) and other ex-officio members were the president of the Mississippi Senate as vice chairman, the state attorney general, and the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. In addition, members of the commission included three citizens appointed by the governor from each of the Mississippi Supreme Court districts; two members from the Senate, appointed by the president of the Senate; and three members from the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker. The governor, attorney general, and legislators served on the commission during their tenures in office. The three members appointed by the governor served for the duration of the governor's term.

The commission itself was a small agency with a staff of a director, public relations director, investigators (most former FBI agents, but also coming from military intelligence), and clerical staff. Further, the commission used both paid and unpaid informants to supplement its investigation team. The commission also used private detective agencies to conduct investigations, including the services of John D. Sullivan of Vicksburg -- whose background is particularly fascinating because of his relationship with a New Orleans detective agency tied to the JFK assassination. Oh why not -- here is a quick story I once wrote about Sullivan (who later "committed suicide" in a very dark way:

On Friday November 22, 1963, news bulletins hit the airwaves as rifle shots interrupted President John F. Kennedy's Dallas motorcade.
While conspiracy theorists and others have kept the debate alive over what happened forty-two years ago, who was involved, and why, no one ever mentions Mississippi's links, notes Susan Klopfer, author of two civil rights books that focus on the Mississippi Delta.
Klopfer said she became even more intrigued with the JFK assassination when she came across information linking a Mississippi icon to several people often associated with the tragic event.
Seven years before JFK was assassinated, the magnolia state's Sen. James O. Eastland met for the first time with Guy Banister, a controversial CIA operative and retired FBI agent in charge of the Chicago bureau, according to Klopfer.
"Banister was later linked to Lee Harvey Oswald and Mississippi's senator through involvement with Eastland's Senate Internal Security Subcommittee or SISS (sometimes called "SISSY")," writes the author of "Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited" and "The Emmett Till Book."
The "New Orleans Times-Picayune" on March 23, 1956, reported that Robert Morrison, a former chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy's House Unamerican Activities Committee or HUAC, and Banister traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, to confer personally with Senator Eastland for more than three hours.
Describing the conference as "completely satisfactory," Morrison told the reporter that "Mr. Banister has complete liaison with the committee's staff which was the main object of our trip."
"Apparently cozying up to Eastland and "SISSY" was Banister's goal. And it worked," Klopfer said.
"Known as a notorious political extremist who was later described as the impetus for James Garrison’s 1967-1970 Kennedy assassination probe, Banister earlier became a brief focus of Mississippi's secret spy agency, the Sovereignty Commission, when it was suggested Banister should be hired to set up an 'even tighter' domestic spying system throughout the state."
According to Klopfer, a second Eastland operative, private investigator John D. Sullivan of Vicksburg, made this suggestion to the commission just months after the JFK assassination, as reported in released Sovereignty Commission records, Klopfer said.
"Former FBI agent Sullivan had worked under Banister (both inside the FBI and privately) and as a private self-employed investigator who often did work for hire for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; the private white Citizens Councils, of which he was an active member; and for SISS, as had Banister and Lee Harvey Oswald.
"When Sullivan reportedly committed suicide following the Kennedy assassination, Sovereignty Commission investigators tried to acquire his library and files, but most of his confidential files were either reportedly burned by his widow or they had been lent out, and she 'could not remember' who had them, Sovereignty Commission files disclose."
Some twenty-nine years later, in testimony before the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board during a Dallas hearing on November 18, 1994, the late Senator Eastland was directly implicated in the president’s assassination by one of the author/theorists invited to testify, Klopfer said.
“Lee Harvey Oswald was quite possibly an agent of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and he was doing the bidding of [Sen. Thomas J.] Dodd and Eastland and Morrison, author John McLaughlin swore."
Klopfer also states that "documentation that could support or even discredit such assertions could perhaps be present in the Eastland archives at the University of Mississippi, but no objective scholar has been allowed to search these archives since the day they arrived on campus."
Instead, Eastland's records were managed for years by a former associate and devotee who followed the papers from Washington, D.C. to Oxford, Klopfer said.
Finally in 2005, after an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request by Klopfer, a historian was hired to organize the archives based in the James O. Eastland School of Law at Ole Miss. "But there would still be a waiting period before any of the files could be viewed, according to the school's dean.
"The plan was to release first all press releases, according to one Ole Miss historian who also confirmed that many important files were probably missing -- that the files looked 'cleaned out'."
Klopfer asserts the Dean of the James O. Eastland School of Law, when presented a freedom of information act request or FOIA for access to Eastland archives, asked, while laughing, if he could “just show the rejection letter written to the last person who asked for this information."
Later, Klopfer said, it came back to her that “people at Ole Miss were really angry” over the FOIA request.
-------- Notes
[1] “Banister, FBI Chief Since February, to Leave Post Nov. 30,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 19, 1954, Part 2, Page 12.
[2] Citation for this newspaper article (“NOTP, March 23, 1956, p. 1”) comes from the online Jerry P. Shinley Archive “Re: Jim Garrison and the SCEF Raids.”
[3] William Davy, “Let Justice Be Done,” (Jordan Publication, May 12, 1999), 1. On the weekend of the assassination, Banister pistol-whipped his employee Jack Martin, after Martin accused him of killing Kennedy. Martin eventually spoke to authorities. [4] Sovereignty Commission documents SCR ID 7-0-8-89-1-1-1 and SCR ID 2-56-1-20-1-1-1.
[5] Sovereignty Commission documents SCR ID 99-36-0-2-1-1-1 SCR ID 1-16-1-21-1-1-1, SCR ID 1-26-0-5-2-1-1, SCR ID 2-2-0-19-1-1-1, SCR ID 1-24-0-11-1-1-1
[6] After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, A. J. Weberman, a “Dylanologist,” “garbologist” and Kennedy conspiracist wrote that he received this communication from Sullivan's grandson, Jeremy Sullivan: "I was told that he committed suicide but my dad didn't think so. He told me there was an investigation and the FBI was involved. They deemed it suicide. The story I heard had changed depending on who told it, I believe that they had been out fishing all day and John Daniel had been drinking. After they got home, he was alone in his room and there was a gunshot, and he was found dead." Also, Weberman stated that Jim Garrison had an undisclosed case against Sullivan in 1961. Per a “Memo for the Director” by Betsy Palmer on April 19, 1978, regarding the “HSCA.” From A.J. Ajweberman and Michael Canfield, “Coup D'Etat in America, The CIA and the Assassination of John Kennedy,” (New York City, The Third Press, 1975) Nodule II.
[7] Online minutes of testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board, November 18, 1994. Dallas, Texas. Testimony of John McLaughlin aka John Bevilaqua, Harvard University graduate and systems analyst, also a Kennedy assassination theorist. McLaughlin was testifying why he needed to see documents from HUAC and SISS. He had also requested military records of Wycliff P. Draper, head of the Draper Committees and Pioneer Fund. Mississippi had been the benefactor of Draper money in its fight against the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and in funding of private white academies per Sovereignty Commission reports.
[8] Eastland’s name has also been associated with the murder of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, U. S. Senator Robert Kennedy and with the mass murder at a U. S. Army base located in Mississippi of potentially 1,000 black soldiers during World War II.
[9] The former Eastland aid has since retired.

Note: I later interviewed Sullivan's daughter. She told me that in no way did she believe her father killed himself. Officially, he was cleaning his hunting rifle and shot himself in the groin and bled to death, she said. Meanwhile, her brother once revealed to her that her father told him he knew some "terrible information" from his New Orleans job with the Banister agency. Quite interesting...

So, continuing that we've gotten Sullivan out of the way:

As the state's official tax-funded agency to combat activities of the Civil Rights Movement, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission performed many duties. Although varied, these tasks can be divided into three general functions: investigative, advisory, and public relations. But "investigation" is only a polite word for spying and setting up black folks to take a hit -- or white folks who tried to help black folks, like Dr. Horace Germany who returned to Mississippi in 1956 to help African American farmers, finally leaving his home state when he was beaten severely for his efforts.

For seventeen years, from 1956 to 1973, the commission "investigated" civil rights workers, acted as a clearinghouse for any information on civil rights activities that could impact Mississippi's ill will toward civil rights activities, and legislation from around the nation, funneled money to pro-segregation causes, and distributed right-wing propaganda, say Mississippi's current historical propagandists, leaving out the stories of Germany and others.

J. P. Coleman (1956-1960). Mississippi historians report the first governor to head the commission as favoring the "low-key approach through the public relations function" and this is nothing but bullshit. Remember the Commission was formed right after the murder of Emmett Till, when the federal heat was on.

"Above all, Coleman tried to cultivate an image of Mississippi in which race relations were good and citizens were law abiding. Consequently, the commission sought to put a lid on situations that might tarnish this image. Coleman did not allow the commission to channel money to the Citizens' Council, a grassroots pro-segregation movement." Once again, this version of the Mississippi Soverignty Commission is per the state's official history channel. But this version doesn't even match up to the records and stories of people who were in Mississippi at the time, and who were the targets of this "lawful" investigations or the activities of the KKK, fed by the Commission, like Germany.

His successor, Governor Ross Barnett (1960-1964), expanded the investigative function of the commission. Commission investigators toured the state and wrote reports on civil rights activities of individuals and organizations, including scrutinizing reading material and libraries. The rumor mill and race baiters fed the commission, and anyone who appeared to transgress racial lines or espouse a vaguely liberal perspective was likely to be brought to its attention. Barnett's expanded role for the commission also included funding for the Citizens' Council as well as national efforts to halt the 1964 civil rights act legislative efforts in Washington D.C. Money from a creepy East Coast financier was funneled through the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission to a modern-day PAC that was financing this fight.

During the tenure of Governor Paul B.Johnson, Jr. (1964-1968) the commission promoted its public relations functions. Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the commission proposed a “long-range plan for an office in Washington to promote conservative viewpoints and policies in legislation.” The commission also donated small amounts to African-American individuals and organizations sympathetic to segregation. For two years after his inauguration, Governor Johnson had not officially activated the commission by calling a meeting or appointing new members. The Mississippi Legislature in June 1966 included a provision in its reduced $200,000 appropriation that Governor Johnson had to officially activate the commission before any funding could be received. Accordingly, a meeting was called on August 8,1966, although Johnson did not attend.

Johnson would later state in his personal memoirs that many Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files would never see the light of day, because they were hidden in the homes of numerous Mississippians. The Commission, itself, send representatives to clean out the records of Sullivan when he killed himself, i.e., was murdered.

"At the meeting members approved a new policy defining the commission as a “watch dog over subversive individuals and organizations that advocate civil disobedience; as a public relations agency for the state; and as an advisor for local communities on problems resulting from federal laws or court orders.”
In reality, it was business as usual for commission investigators, who continued to track individuals and groups who challenged racial segregation. In addition, the commission served its advisory function by recommending ways to circumvent the 1964 Civil Rights Act."

Governor John Bell Williams (1968-1972) was more attentive to the Sovereignty Commission, write Mississippi's historians. "Williams not only authorized meetings but was usually in attendance. The new governor, interested in the commission's investigative function rather than public relations, appointed former FBI agent W. Webb Burke as director in September 1968, and neglected to fill the public relations position.
Subsequently, the focus of the commission became “intelligence gathering.” In a routine report, completed by all state agencies in 1971, Burke made no mention of public relations as a function of the commission, describing the purpose or function of the agency as “conducting investigations into matters of interest to the public and which matters pertain to tax supported institutions.”
“[R]requests from state, county, and municipal officials in matters pertaining to possible violations in connection with civil rights activities,” were honored, as were “functions added to the agency since formation,” such as investigations of “campus student disturbances and use of drugs and sale of same on campuses of state operated schools.” Reiterating these points in a May 1971 Times Picayune interview, Burke compared the commission to the House Un-American Activities Committee or the FBI."

Mississippi Governor William Waller (1972-1976) authorized programs of the commission and appointed new members, but was absent from meetings. "It was no longer politically expedient to support such an agency, and in April 1973, Waller vetoed its 1973 appropriation. At the last official Sovereignty Commission meeting on June 22, 1973, members voted to seal and transfer the agency's files to the secretary of state for safekeeping. Although members made plans for future meetings, the commission officially closed its doors June 30, 1973."

The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, at least in this form, ceased to function in 1973, but was not officially dissolved until 1977. In January 1977, Mississippi legislators introduced bills to abolish the commission and dispose of its records and equipment. "After much heated debate, the legislature approved an act which abolished the commission and authorized its records [what was left of them] be sealed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History until July 1, 2027."

A note here -- I have written extensively about Cleve McDowell, a Drew lawyer, who probably had a number of Mississippi Sovereignty Commission records stored in his office, records that the commission would probably not have wanted to see the light of day. McDowell was murdered on March 13, 1997, one year before the bulk of the papers were opened by the public. McDowell's closest friend, an Alabama lawyer, who often worked with McDowell investigating civil rights murders, "committed suicide" two years earlier. McDowell examined his friend's body and found signs of torture, according to McDowell's minister.

Nevertheless, as the official history goes, on March 4, 1977, the Office of the Secretary of State transferred the Sovereignty Commission records to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The department received the locked cabinets, sealed them with metal bands, and placed them in its vault.

"While the records of the defunct Sovereignty Commission sat locked and sealed in the Department of Archives and History vault, legal battles began over their fate. Twenty-one years later, on March 17, 1998, the bulk of the papers were opened to the public. Subsequent releases on July 31, 2000, and January 18, 2001, completed the process. The public finally had access to the infamous files in electronic format at three computer workstations in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History library.The Mississippi Department of Archives and History put the Sovereignty Commission papers online in late 2002."

Wouldn't we all just love to see what papers did not make it into the vault?

(Probably won't happen. All of McDowell's copies were quickly scooped up, after he was murdered, his secretary told me, and I have never heard of a statewide dragnet to get other papers out of the basements and garages of former commission members, spies and their families. Like the untold stories surrounding the murder of young Emmett Till that fall by the way, a lot of truth keeps fading into the sunset in Mississippi.)

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