Title: Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement
Author: Rick Bowers
ISBN: 9781426305955
Pages: 120 pages
Publisher/Date: National Geographic, c2010.

“Twelve of the most powerful men in the state controlled a secretive network of spies and informants. A cadre of covert operatives used code names like Agent X, Agent Y, and Agent Zero. Neighbors spied on neighbors. Teachers spied on students. Ministers spied on churchgoers. Spies spied on spies. This is not the description of a Cold War-era secret police force or a futuristic sci-fi dictatorship. This government-run spy network infiltrated the lives of private citizens right here in the United States and not too long ago–in the state of Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. […]
Despite the tracks left behind by the anti-civil rights spies and the excellent research and writing on the subject in Mississippi, the story remains largely unknown to the general public. It is usually relegated to a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement.
No longer.
This is how it happened. (1-2)

According to the book jacket, Rick Bowers conducted “a comprehensive review of the massive 134,000-page file in the Commission archive, interviews with surviving participants named in the once-secret files, reviews of the personal papers of past governors, commissioners, and investigators, and writings and oral histories of Mississippi civil rights leaders.” While I can’t say for certain that is what he did, he does present a historical situation that I have never heard of and is not mentioned in what I have read. You hear that the south was worse than the northern states during the Civil Rights Movement, but then you read this book which exposes the extent of which it differed in Mississippi from the rest of the country. Backroom negotiations between the governor and the president in enrolling a black student at an all white college were probably the most surprising and estonishing to me. The blatant racism is shocking to me, who normally doesn’t encounter any due to skin color. An accused shooter of a NAACP field secretary who was a founding member of the racist White Citizens’ Council and a Klansman, Byron De La Beckwith listed his qualilfications in an application as “Expert with a pistol, good with a rifle and fair with a shotgun-and-RABID ON THE SUBJECT OF SEGREGATION! I therefore request that you select me, among many, as one who will tear the mask from the face of the NAACP and forever rid this fair land of the DISEASE OF INTEGRATION with which it is plagued with.” (76) While he wasn’t hired, he also wasn’t found guilty until 1994 for a crime committed in 1963. He passed away seven years later. Another sad story is Clyde Kennard, who passed away from cancer after serving a hard labor sentence in jail based on trumped-up charges. It’s through these joint vignettes that Bowers showcases the horror and prejudice that was encouraged by government officials and at one point in time funded by tax dollars. It’s a horrorific part of history that cannot be forgotten, and I’m extremely grateful that Bowers brought this to the public attention.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Carol’s post over at Lerner Publishing Group.

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