Freedom Riders Smile For Mississippi’s Secret Spy Agency (1961)

In 1961 civil rights campaigners smiled for their mug shots and stared down the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission

On Wednesday May 24 1961, Freedom Riders boarded interstate buses into the segregated southern United States for the journey to Jackson, Mississippi. Surrounded by Highway Patrol and the National Guard, the buses arrived in Jackson without incident, but the riders were immediately arrested when they tried to use the white-only facilities at the depot. What aught our eyes is that when the camera clicked for their mug shots, many of the riders smiled.

 

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-28 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Wright, Clarence Melvin

1961-05-28 – Wright, Clarence Melvin

 

The Freedom Riders’ mug shots and other images seen here were collected by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC), the state’s official counter civil rights agency from 1956–1977. Directed by governors of Mississippi, the commission aimed to  “…protect the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi, and her sister states” from “encroachment thereon by the Federal Government”. The MSSD was a secret spy agency to preserve segregation and maintain “the Mississippi way of life” and white supremacy.

 

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-11 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Jorgensen, Mary L.

1961-07-11 –  Jorgensen, Mary L.

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-09 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Rand, Roena

1961-07-09 – Rand, Roena

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-11 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Jorgensen, Russell F.

1961-07-11 – Jorgensen, Russell F.

 

MSCC was determined to portray the state and racial segregation in a positive light. The “commission penetrated most of the major civil rights organizations in Mississippi, even planting clerical workers in the offices of activist attorneys. It informed police about planned marches or boycotts and encouraged police harassment of African-Americans who cooperated with civil rights groups. Its agents obstructed voter registration by blacks and harassed African-Americans seeking to attend white schools.”

 

Date- Original created- 1967-05 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Bland, Sheila Williams, Kelly Cannon, Lana Cannon, Steve Makamson, Lee

1967-05 S- Bland, Sheila Williams, Kelly Cannon, Lana Cannon, Steve Makamson, Lee

Description- Millsaps students protest death of JSU student Ben Brown Date- Original created- 1967-05-11

Millsaps students protest death of JSU student Ben Brown – 1967-05-11

 

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But the agency was given unusual authority to investigate citizens of the state, issue subpoenas and even exercise police powers, although it was not attached to any law enforcement agency. During its existence, the commission profiled more than 87,000 persons associated with, or suspected to be associated with, the civil rights movement (which it opposed). It investigated the work and credit histories and even personal relations of persons it investigated. It collaborated with local white officials of government, police, and business to pressure African Americans to give up activism, especially by economic pressures, such as causing them to be fired, evicted from rental housing, or to have their businesses boycotted…

 

 

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-25 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Donald, Rev. Grady H.

1961-05-25 – Donald, Rev. Grady H.

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-25 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Collins, Lucretia

1961-05-25 – Collins, Lucretia

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-25 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Ackerberg, Peter

1961-05-25 – Ackerberg, Peter

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-06-21 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Frieze, Judith Ann

1961-06-21 – Frieze, Judith Ann

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-24 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Petway, Matthew

1961-07-24 – Petway, Matthew

 

The commission’s activities included attempting to preserve the state’s segregation and Jim Crow laws, opposing school integration, and ensuring portrayal of the state “in a positive light.” Among its first employees were a former FBI agent and a transfer from the state highway patrol. “The agency outwardly extolled racial harmony, but it secretly paid investigators and spies to gather both information and misinformation.”Staff of the commission worked closely with, and in some cases funded, the notorious White Citizens’ Councils. From 1960 to 1964, the commission secretly funded the White Citizens Council, a private organization, with $190,000 of state funds.

The commission also used its intelligence-gathering capabilities to assist in the defense of Byron De La Beckwith, the murderer of Medgar Evers in 1963, during his second trial in 1964. Sov-Com investigator Andy Hopkins provided De La Beckwith’s attorneys with information on the potential jurors, which the attorneys used during the selection process.

 

Description- COFO meeting sign Date- Original created- 1964-07-24

COFO meeting sign – 1964-07-24

Continental Trailways Bus Depot and Staley's Cafe investigation of possible integration Date- Original created- 1961-11-01

Continental Trailways Bus Depot and Staley’s Cafe investigation of possible integration –  1961-11-01

 

In 1964, the Sov-Com passed on information regarding civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, to the conspirators in their murders during Freedom Summer.[8] Commission agent A.L. Hopkins met with Neshoba County law enforcement and suggested the disappearance of the three young men was a propaganda ploy.

After the election of Paul B. Johnson Jr., the agency director, Erle Johnston, owner of The Scott County Times, expanded the public relations role. He tried to form closer ties with business while monitoring proclaimed subversive groups, such as the Congress of Racial Equality, founded by James L. Farmer, Jr.[10] Johnston left the commission in 1968. In 1980 he was elected as the mayor of Forest in Scott County, serving from 1981 into 1985.

 

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-24 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Thomas, Cecil A.

1961-07-24 – Thomas, Cecil A.

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-30 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Singleton, Helen Irene

1961-07-30 – Singleton, Helen Irene

 

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-24 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Vivian, C.T.

1961-05-24 – Vivian, C.T.

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-24 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Andrews, Harold

1961-05-24 – Andrews, Harold

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-05-25 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Copeland, John

1961-05-25 – Copeland, John

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-06-08 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Trumpower, Joan

1961-06-08 – Trumpower, Joan

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-02 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Thornton, Leotis

1961-07-02 – Thornton, Leotis

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-09 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Burkholder, Daniel R.

1961-07-09 – Burkholder, Daniel R.

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-06-21 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Nash, Samuel Thimothy

1961-06-21 – Nash, Samuel Thimothy

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-07-16 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Smith, Shirley B.

1961-07-16 – Smith, Shirley B.

Description- Freedom Rider mug shot Date- Original created- 1961-06-25 Sov. Com. Index- Personal Name(s) Nelson, Frank Arthur

1961-06-25 – Nelson, Frank Arthur

The commission officially closed in 1977, four years after Governor Bill Waller vetoed further funding.

 

Via: MDAH