Series Description:

Series 2515: Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Records, 1994-2006 comprises the digitized records of the defunct Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which functioned as the state's official counter civil rights agency from 1956-1973 [see Agency History].The collection consists of approximately 133,000 pages of material, which were processed and scanned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in accordance with American Civil Liberties Union v. Fordice, 969 F.Supp. 403 (S.D.Miss.1994) [see Access Chronology]. The original records were filed according to a thirteen (13) category classification system devised by Commission investigators. When the records were digitized by MDAH to meet the court's specifications, each item was assigned a unique number that was derived from the original filing system. However, due to the existence of some unclassified originals and rebuttal accretions, the archivists added additional classification numbers. The digitized collection comprises the scanned originals with court-approved redactions requested by individuals named in the records along with additional information submitted by individuals named in the records who chose to file a rebuttal. The digital collection also includes the court-specified personal name index and links between rebuttal records and Commission records in which rebuttal submitters are mentioned.

The bulk of the originals were paper, including investigative reports, correspondence, speeches and a large amount of published material. Investigative reports concerned requested inquiries into specific incidents, individuals or organizations or consist of an overview of several communities or counties visited by Commission investigators. Copies of whole reports or individual pages would often be filed in different folders and classifications. As a result there is considerable duplication of material in the files. Incoming and outgoing correspondence was associated with all the myriad functions of the Commission, including investigations, public relations, dissemination of pro-segregation and states' rights propaganda, requests from communities on how to handle various situations as well as the routine administration of the agency. The Commission acted as a clearinghouse for information about segregation and civil rights activities and legislation from around the nation. In doing so they collected published material such as newspapers, magazine and journal articles, pamphlets and numerous issues of the Congressional Record. For each Mississippi county they also compiled a publicity file primarily of newspaper clippings, which focused on race related topics. The records also include many drafts and final copies of articles funneled to local newspapers and speeches prepared for government officials or for delivery by Commission staff or its Speakers Bureau. The Commission's administrative files include minutes, personnel records, interoffice/agency memoranda and correspondence. Also included are financial records, which not only document mundane agency expenses but can be used to track investigative activities and payments of non-Commission investigators and informants.

In addition to the paper-based records the original collection included two audio recordings and over 900 photographs. The recordings are of an April 28, 1960 conference with Dr. Felix Dunn of Harrison County concerning integration of gulf coast beaches, and a March 30, 1971 news conference with members of the Republic of New Africa. The 913 photographs interspersed in the files were generated and received by the Commission as part of its investigative and public relations functions. The actual photographer is often not indicated on the either the photograph itself or in associated documents. While investigative reports sometimes mention that attached photographs were taken by the investigator, it is clear that the Commission did not take the majority of the photographs in the collection. The bulk of the photographs are 1961 freedom rider police mug shots supplied by the Jackson Police Department. JPD also provided the Commission with mug shots of arrested sit-in participants as well as photographs of Jackson marches and demonstrations. Police departments in other Mississippi communities and states also sent the Commission arrest photographs/mug shots and demonstration photographs. Associated documentation suggests that the Berkeley California Free Speech and Jo Freeman photographs were provided by paid informant Edgar Downing. However, it is not clear whether Downing took all the photographs in the envelope of pictures attributed to him. Associated documentation also suggests that Informant "X" took the photographs of volunteers at what appears to be the Oxford, Ohio Council of Federated Organizations orientation of 1964. Some of the publicity photographs are stamped with the name of a photographer or studio but mostly the origin is not indicated. The collection also includes a small number of photographs of original documents. These are varied and include items such as: checks, memos, correspondence and minutes from the Southern Christian Education Fund and activists Carl and Anne Braden; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality correspondence; checks from the Southern Christian Leadership Council bearing the endorsement of Martin Luther King Jr.; and a letter from J.B. Stoner, Atlanta Georgia Grand Wizard KKK to Elijah Muhammad.

In 2006 a new photograph search option was added to the existing online collection. This new function utilized re-scans of the un-redacted original photographs, which were individually described and linked back to their initial scan and salient documentation. To differentiate these new scans from the original images the code "ph" was appended to the Sovereignty Commission identification number [For details about the identification number see Unique Resource Identifier].


[For an overview of the agency and the legal battle and procedure to open the records see Agency History and Access Chronology]

On March 4, 1977 in accordance with the provisions of an Act to abolish the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, its records were transferred from the Secretary of State's storage facility in Flora to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History [General Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1977, Chapter 320]. These records constituted "six filing cabinets, two unsealed pasteboard boxes said to contain fiscal records, two separate folders in a manila envelope, and a bound volume which was said to be a minute book." On March 7, Secretary of State Heber Ladner informed MDAH that there were also some records at the governor's office. This "small package, sealed and taped very securely" was delivered to Archives and History. MDAH received the cabinets locked; they were sealed with metal bands and stored in the vault. In accordance with the act abolishing the Commission, the penalties for any person who would "willfully examine, divulge, disseminate, alter, remove, or destroy said files prior to July 1, 2027," were posted prominently on each cabinet. MDAH photographed the storage process and initiated new stringent security procedures for the vault.1

In February 1977, an intense legal battle to open the records was initiated. For the duration of the case the records remained in the department's custody, sealed in the vault of the MDAH Charlotte Capers building. In 1984 they were opened to the litigants in the case for the purpose of discovery. In 1988 the United States Justice Department was also granted access to the files as part of a judicial redistricting case. Following a 1994 Memorandum and Opinion Order the records were processed, scanned and indexed by MDAH to meet the court's privacy and disclosure requirements [American Civil Liberties Union v. Fordice, 969 F.Supp. 403 (S.D.Miss.1994)]. In 1997, in accordance with the court's disclosure procedure MDAH managed a selective privacy review of the records for individuals named in the files. Based on the privacy options selected by these privacy review respondents and the final adjudication of these requests by the court, MDAH processed and opened the records to the public in three (3) stages between 1998-2001. The records were made available in electronic format in the MDAH Reading Room. The electronic version consisted of the scanned originals with court-approved redactions requested by privacy respondents and additional information submitted by respondents choosing to file a rebuttal. The collection also included the court-specified personal name index and links between rebuttal records and Commission records in which rebuttal submitters were mentioned. In 2001, to enable public order requests for photographs in the collection, copy negatives were made of the larger groupings of freedom rider mug shots, demonstrations and publicity photographs. In 2002 as part of preparations for the web-enabled version the un-redacted photographs were re-scanned according to current MDAH scanning standards. In 2006 the new individually described images were made available in a parallel database and the code "ph" was appended to the Sovereignty Commission identification number to differentiate the new scans from the original images.

1 Elbert Hilliard to MDAH Board, January 24, 1977, Series 1250: Minutes and Related Material, folder "Regular Quarterly Meeting, January 28, 1977," box 5531, MDAH; Erle Johnston, Mississippi's Defiant Years, 1953-1973: An Interpretive Documentary with Personal Experiences (Forest, Miss.: Lake Harbor Publishers, 1990), 379-380; Katagiri, The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, 415-418; "Department of Archives and History, Minutes of a Meeting of the Executive Committee Board of Trustees, March 11, 1977," Series 1250, folder "Executive Committee Meeting, March 11, 1977," box 5331; Laws of Mississippi, 1977, Chapter 320, 447-448; Clarion-Ledger, January 28, 1977, March 3, 1977, March 7, 1977, March 20, 1977, May 22, 1977; Daily News, January 28, 1977. back to text