Clyde Kennard’s Freedom and Death

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Clyde Kennard, a WWII veteran, returned to his home of Eatonville Mississippi to help the family farm. Kennard had finished the first three years of his political science degree in Chicago and intended to transfer to a University in Mississippi to complete his degree. There were no black colleges in southern Mississippi in the 1950s, so Kennard applied to Mississippi Southern College, now the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg. Between 1955 and 1959, Clyde Kennard applied three times to the Mississippi Southern College. He was denied admission every time on a series of technicalities. Kennard had no intention of silently giving up on his education. He wrote of his attempts to gain admission to the College in a letter to the local newspaper, the Hattiesburg American.

In September of 1960, Kennard was arrested and tried on the fabricated charges of stealing $25 worth of chicken feed from the Forrest County Cooperative. In just ten minutes an all-white jury found Kennard guilty and sentenced him to seven years in prison. During his incarceration Kennard was forced to work at the notorious Parchman Prison’s cotton plantation. Within a year Kennard was unable to work due to intense pain and was hospitalized where it was discovered that he had cancer. After doctors notified him that he was unlikely to live much longer, friends, family members, and supporters led a campaign for his release. In February of 1963, he was released and flown to Chicago where he died on July 4, 1963.

(Learn more in “Clyde Kennard: A Little-Known Civil Rights Pioneer” on the Mississippi History Now website, various posts on the CRMvets site, and on the Zinn Education Project website where you can find a portrait and the letters Kennard wrote.)