Clyde Kennard (1927-1963) was a pioneer of attempting to desegregate Mississippi’s higher education system. He was an army veteran and had attended University of Chicago, with significant work completed towards a political science degree, when he moved back home to Eatonville, Mississippi, to help his mother on her farm. He attempted to enroll as the first black student at Mississippi Southern College, now University of Southern Mississippi, originally because it was near his home and eventually in the cause of civil rights. He attempted three times–in 1955, 1959, and 1960–but was thwarted each time by the white power structure determined to keep African American students out of all-white colleges and universities.
Directly after his 1959 attempt to register, Forrest County law enforcement arrested Kennard on false charges of “driving at an excessive speed” and “illegal possession of whiskey,” and despite lack of evidence judge T.C. Hobby found him guilty on both counts. In 1960, he was falsely accused of burglary, and after 10 minutes of deliberation by an all-white jury he was given the maximum sentence of seven years in prison. In Parchman Penitentiary, Kennard was treated brutally and refused medical treatment, which eventually resulted in advanced cancer that killed him at age 36.
Kennard’s story and his mistreatment by the higher education system, the legal system, and the brutal prison system is considered one of the gross injustices of Mississippi history.
Zinn Education Project