Sun 13 Mar, 2011 12:10 pm
Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement
by Rick Bowers
The Spies of Mississippi is a compelling story of how state spies tried to block voting rights for African Americans during the Civil Rights era. This book sheds new light on one of the most momentous periods in American history.
Author Rick Bowers has combed through primary-source materials and interviewed surviving activists named in once-secret files, as well as the writings and oral histories of Mississippi civil rights leaders. Readers get first-hand accounts of how neighbors spied on neighbors, teachers spied on students, ministers spied on church-goers, and spies even spied on spies.
The Spies of Mississippi will inspire readers with the stories of the brave citizens who overcame the forces of white supremacy to usher in a new era of hope and freedom—an age that has recently culminated in the election of Barack Obama.
*Starred Review* With all the books on the civil rights movement for young people, it’s hard to believe there’s a topic that hasn’t yet been touched. But Bowers, through impeccable research and personal investigation, seems to have come up with something chillingly new.
In 1956, the state of Mississippi conceived a Sovereignty Commission that began as a propaganda outlet and morphed into a spy network, with a goal of stopping integration and crushing the civil rights movement in the state.
Written with clarity and understated power, the book methodically shows how white politicians organized the network and willing blacks accepted payment to infiltrate groups like the NAACP, or in some cases rail against civil rights organizations in churches and African American newspapers. After the election of Governor Ross Barnett, the commission’s tactics grew bolder, and violence became a part of the mix.
Those with knowledge of the era will find this a vivid depiction of those turbulent days, but for them as well as students new to the history the extremes will be an eye-opener. The inset of photographs might have worked better spread throughout the text, but the story is so powerful it hardly needs visuals. Sources, an extensive bibliography, and copies of some of the commission documents (all were unsealed in 1998) are appended.
The book exposes the period when GOP current presidential candidate Harley Barbour supported the White Citizens' Council and the KKK in Mississippi to fight against racial integration.
This led to a considerable outcry in which critics accused Barbour of whitewashing history. In response to criticism, Barbour issued a statement declaring Citizens' Councils to be "indefensible." ---BBB
Race and integration
Barbour has faced considerable "in-state criticism for his approach to racial issues." Mississippi state Representative Willie Perkins has "compared Barbour to the southern Democrats who preceded him," saying: "As far as I'm concerned, he has never done anything as a governor or a citizen to distinguish himself from the old Democrats who fought tooth and nail to preserve segregation."
On an April 11, 2010, appearance on CNN, host Candy Crowley asked if it had been insensitive for Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to omit mentioning slavery in a proposed recognition of Confederate History Month. Barbour replied, "To me, it's a sort of feeling that it's a nit, that it is not significant, that it's not a—it's trying to make a big deal out of something doesn't amount to diddly". Barbour continued on CNN, “I don’t know what you would say about slavery...but anybody that thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing, I think that goes without saying”.
In December 2010, Barbour was interviewed by The Weekly Standard magazine. Asked about coming of age in Yazoo City during the civil rights era, Barbour, who was 16 when three civil rights workers were murdered in the state in the summer of 1964, told the interviewer regarding growing up there, "I just don't remember it as being that bad." Barbour then credited the White Citizens' Council for keeping the KKK out of Yazoo City and ensuring the peaceful integration of its schools. Barbour dismissed comparisons between the White Citizens' Councils and the KKK, and referred to the Councils as "an organization of town leaders." Barbour continued in his defense of the Councils, saying, "In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City." Barbour's statement did not address the role of the white supremacist group in publicly naming and blacklisting individuals who petitioned for educational integration and how it used political pressure and violence to force African-American residents to move.
In what some have speculated was an attempt at damage control just days after the interview, Barbour suspended the prison sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott, two African American women who received life sentences resulting from a 1993 mugging in which the two women stole $11. Barbour has denied that there was any connection between the suspension of the Scott sisters' prison sentence and the controversy surrounding his Weekly Standard interview. Jamie Scott suffered from kidney failure while in prison, and requires a donated organ, which her sister Gladys has offered to do. Barbour's decision to release the Scott sisters, however, is contingent upon the promised organ donation by Gladys Scott, which critics have argued amounts to coercion and raises questions of medical ethics.
To see the author's book content presentation on C-SPAN 3/12/11: