Agency History

Access Chronology

Commission Members

Commission Personnel



  • 1977 On February 18, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Delta Ministry, and civil rights activists Owen Brooks and Ken Lawrence file a class-action suit charging state agencies with illegal surveillance of Mississippi citizens. Plaintiffs call for the records to be opened, charging, "People have a right and, indeed, a need to know what information the government has collected about them, how it was and continues to be used, and by whom."24
  • 1979 Judge Harold Cox, U. S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division, dismisses the suit.25
  • 1981 The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses Judge Cox's ruling. 26
  • 1983 Judge Cox vacates seat in April and is replaced by Judge William H. Barbour, Jr., of Yazoo City, Mississippi.
  • 1984 Judge Barbour grants the ACLU access to the files for the purpose of discovery.27
  • 1987 Judge Barbour divides the plaintiffs into two subclasses: access plaintiffs, who seek unlimited public access to the records, and privacy plaintiffs, who want people named in the records to have access but general access only after those named have given consent.28
  • 1989 On July 27, Judge Barbour rules that the Sovereignty Commission records should be opened and maintained just like any other public records. He stipulates that anyone named in the records may file rebuttal information. Privacy plaintiffs immediately appeal.29 In a related case on July 28, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Stuart Robinson rules that copies of Sovereignty Commission records in the files of the Paul B. Johnson Family Papers curated at the McCain Library and Archives at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) are public records and should be opened. Accordingly, these records are quietly opened by the USM archives.30
  • 1990 The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Judge Barbour's order "did not adequately take into consideration privacy interests of persons named in the files." The Circuit Court directs the District Court to "devise a plan" to protect privacy interests. 31
  • 1993 At an evidentiary hearing in September, litigants including representatives from MDAH outline their recommendations for the opening of the records.32
  • 1994 On May 31, Judge Barbour releases a memorandum and opinion order establishing a procedure by which the records may be opened without violating the privacy rights of people named in the records. Privacy plaintiffs appeal.33
  • 1994-1996 In accordance with Judge Barbour's 1994 ruling MDAH processes the records in preparation for the privacy review-and-disclosure procedure, which will ultimately lead to the opening of the Commission records.
  • 1996 The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Judge Barbour's 1994 ruling. The lone remaining privacy plaintiff, Ed King, appeals the decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. On November 18, the Supreme Court declines to hear the case. All avenues of appeal are exhausted, and the schedule for the privacy review-and-disclosure procedure established by Judge Barbour's 1994 ruling goes into effect.34
  • 1997 Privacy Review-and-Disclosure Procedure implemented by MDAH as follows:
    • January 20 and 27, 1997, advertisements run in state and national newspapers inviting people who believe that their names might appear in the records to write to MDAH; 987 people respond during the 90-day period established by the court.
    • Each of those respondents is mailed a questionnaire asking for information that would help the Department search for the respondent's name in the records. The Department receives approximately 700 completed questionnaires by the deadline.
    • Between April 28 and August 15, 1997, archivists process these questionnaires, finding that approximately 360 of the respondents are actually named in the records. On August 15, the Department mails these respondents printouts generated from the image database of every document in which their names appear, along with instructions on how to declare their privacy options. Victims could choose from a list of privacy options; these included the right to have personal information permanently redacted (blacked out), to have any personal files permanently sealed, and to submit rebuttal information. State actors could challenge their status only in court. In the copies to be mailed to each of these respondents, the names of all other respondents are temporarily redacted. The approximately 340 people who submitted questionnaires but were not listed in the records are sent letters explaining that their names were not found.
    • Of the 360 respondents named in the records, 42 people select a privacy option. In addition, the status is questioned of the records of three respondents who died during the inquiry period.
  • 1998 On January 13, Judge Barbour rules that all records not subject to further litigation are open.35 Accordingly, on March 17, 1998, the majority of the Sovereignty Commission records are made available to the public on three computer terminals in MDAH search room. This is the first time the records have been accessible to the public, and the opening attracts considerable media attention. The records of the 45 privacy respondents, totaling approximately 7,700 pages or 6 percent of the Sovereignty Commission collection remain sealed.
  • 1999-2000 The court adjudicates the legitimacy of the privacy requests. MDAH archivists scan and make ready approximately 2,311 pages of rebuttal documents submitted by ten privacy respondents. In addition, archivists electronically affix court-approved permanent redactions to specified records.
  • 2000 On July 31, a further 6,000 pages of Sovereignty Commission records are made available in electronic format by MDAH in accordance with a ruling by Judge Barbour. This release contains the court-approved redactions. In addition, this latest disclosure includes 146 pages of rebuttal information submitted by privacy respondents.
  • 2001 On January 18, with all litigation now completed, approximately 1,800 pages of records are made available in electronic format by MDAH in accordance with a ruling by Judge Barbour. This final release is the last stage in the privacy review-and-disclosure procedure and includes the court-approved redactions. In addition to Commission records, a further 2,165 pages of submitted rebuttal information are also opened to the public.
  • 2002 MDAH provides full text online access to the records via the agency's website.