2006 Regular Session

To: Rules

By: Representative Watson, Brown, Whittington

House Concurrent Resolution 55


     WHEREAS, Clyde Kennard, an African American decorated war veteran and farmer, repeatedly tried to become known as the first black student to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), but his false arrest is known by researchers as the saddest event of the civil rights movement in Mississippi; and

     WHEREAS, when Clyde Kennard refused to give up his quest to become the first black student to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi, authorities sent him to state prison in 1960 for seven years; and

     WHEREAS, a three-month investigation by The Clarion-Ledger has revealed that the decorated Army veteran was locked up for a crime he never committed; and

     WHEREAS, in the 1960 trial, 19-year-old Johnny Lee Roberts testified that Kennard, a 33-year-old devout Baptist and farmer, put him up to breaking into Forrest County Co-op to steal $25.00 in feed, even describing how he should leave the warehouse door unlocked; however, 45 years later, Roberts has said that none of his testimony was true, is willing to swear under oath that Clyde Kennard never put him up to the burglary, or asked him to do anything illegal; and

     WHEREAS, born in 1927, Kennard's early life foreshadowed a grim future when, at the age of four, his father died.  He grew up helping his mother run the family farm.  In 1950, Kennard began attending college in Fayetteville, N.C., during the Korean War.  Kennard served as a paratrooper and rose to the rank of sergeant, receiving three medals including the Bronze Star; and

     WHEREAS, after the Korean War, he came home to run the family farm in Mississippi, and at the age of 28 joined the NAACP; and

     WHEREAS, Kennard served as President of the local NAACP youth chapter and on the local school board; and

     WHEREAS, after becoming aware that the area's 125 black students had to travel 11 miles past the all-white school to attend classes, Kennard became outraged and circulated an unsuccessful petition to have children attend the closest school; and

     WHEREAS, Kennard desired to finish college and in 1956, he approached President William D. McCain at the then segregated Mississippi Southern College, but was denied entrance; however, when he tried to enroll again in 1958, he enjoyed the support of Medgar Evers, Field Secretary for the Mississippi NAACP and, when his intention to attend college was made public, the state's segregationist spy agency, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, compiled an extensive dossier on the small-framed farmer and sought to smear his reputation; authorities' framing of Kennard is made clear in Sovereignty Commission records; and

     WHEREAS, on March 6, 1961, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial on reckless driving and liquor charges for Kennard, but it did him little good because he remained behind bars, where he had been since his September 1960 burglary arrest and less than a month later, the same justices upheld Kennard's conviction, sending him to the State Penitentiary at Parchman; and

     WHEREAS, in 1993, USM honored Kennard by renaming its student services building after him and Walter Washington, the first African American to receive a doctorate from the institution, and a biography of Kennard on the university's Web site refers to the charges against Kennard as "false," but Mississippi never has taken any official action to clear his name; and

     WHEREAS, Clyde Kennard wrote a letter to the Hattiesburg American in 1958 challenging the idea of separate but equal.  Kennard suggested people work together to build up one another:  "When merit replaces race as a factor in character evaluation, the most heckling social problem of modern times will have been solved"; and

     WHEREAS, in March 1962, he underwent colon cancer surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, but died July 4, 1963, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence that promised, "All men are created equal"; and

     WHEREAS, Kennard's case was the clearest and best evidence of injustice in Mississippi's past history, and the reputation of this Mississippian deserves to be exonerated:

     NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, THE SENATE CONCURRING THEREIN, That we do hereby acknowledge the innocence of Mr. Clyde Kennard, the first black student to apply for admittance at the University of Southern Mississippi, and declare that the State of Mississippi denied him justice and thereby contributed to a gross miscarriage of justice.

     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That (a) we strongly urge the Governor to grant Mr. Kennard a posthumous pardon in this case based upon the new evidence cited in this Concurrent Resolution, in order to correct this miscarriage of justice by the State of Mississippi, or (b) in the alternative, the District Attorney for the Twelfth Circuit Court District or the Attorney General for the State of Mississippi should investigate and present evidence for a new trial on this matter to the appropriate grand jury, or (c) in the alternative, the Mississippi Supreme Court should take up the Kennard burglary conviction on its own motion.

     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That this resolution shall be forwarded by the Secretary of State to the District Attorney for the Twelfth Circuit Court District, the Attorney General for the State of Mississippi and the Clerk of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That this resolution shall be presented to the surviving family members of Clyde Kennard and be made available to the Capitol Press Corps.