Letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin

Posted in Law, Letters, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2013-07-07 19:42Z by Steven

Letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin

University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
Special Collections: Exhibits and Events


Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission
New Capitol Building
Jackson, Mississippi

Erle Johnston, Jr., Director
Governor Ross R. Barnett, Chairman

Phones: FL 4-3218; FL 2-1022


TO: Honorable Paul B. Johnson, Governor; Honorable Carroll Gartin, Lieutenant Governor

FROM: Director, Sovereignty Commission

SUBJECT: Louvenia Knight (Williamson) and her two sons, Edgar Williamson, born May 1, 1954, and Randy Williamson, born October 10, 1955

  1. This a condensation of a very voluminous file in the Sovereignty Commission on the two Williamson boys, shown on their birth certificates to be white males, sons of white parents, but possessing an amount of Negro blood believed to be between 1/16 and 1/32.
  2. This family lives in the Stringer community of Jasper County. A school bus from Stringer white attendance center passes in front of their home and also a school bus from the white attendance center at Soso in Jones County. The School Board in Jasper County will not permit them to go to the white school and the School Board in Jones County will not take them on transfer. They cannot and will not attend the Negro schools because they are white and because this would be violating Mississippi law. They are now eight and nine years old respectively and have never attended school one day.
  3. The State Department of Education asked the Sovereignty Commission to investigate and try to work out a solution to this problem. The Sovereignty Commission has made every attempt, through investigation and meeting with the school board personnel, to get these boys into a white school. We have even advised the officials involved that we can expect a lot of bad publicity on Mississippi if the boys are not admitted to a school. As of now, the newspapers, who know about the case, are withholding publication at the request of the Sovereignty Commission Director. We cannot maintain this black-out indefinitely.
  4. Unless the influence of the Governor’s office and/or the Lieutenant Governor’s office can be of some assistance in solving this problem, the Sovereignty Commission must close its files with the situation remaining status quo. When we close our files without progress we are afraid the news media will begin to publicize this case as two white boys who cannot go to school in Mississippi. As a newspaper man myself, I realize this story would make national headlines and we hare attempted to avoid it.
  5. The Sovereignty Commission Director will be happy to hear any recommendations from the Governor or Lieutenant Governor. The Commission file on this case is available if you wish to study it in detail.

Erle Johnston, Jr.

View the letter here.

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Letter documenting the struggle of two children’s attempt to attend school

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-03-11 04:28Z by Steven

Letter documenting the struggle of two children’s attempt to attend school

Special Collections
University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
Item of the Month
March 2010

Jennifer Brannock, Special Collections Librarian

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History: Sovereignty Commission Online

[Note from Steven F. Riley: For more on Newton Knight, Rachel Knight, and the “Free State of Jones,” please read Victoria E. Bynum’s excellent monograph, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.]

In 1964, 9-year-old Edgar and 8-year-old Randy Williamson had never attended a day of school. The debate over their admittance stems from the fact that they are 1/16 or 1/32 African American. They are the great, great grandchildren of Newt Knight and a slave woman, Rachel. Newt Knight is a well-known historical figure who was the man behind the “Free State of Jones.” Rachel was a slave owned by Knight’s uncle. Even though Knight was married, it is believed that he left his wife and lived with Rachel until her death.

Edgar and Randy Williamson’s great, great grandmother was African American which meant that they were 1/16 African American. According to Mississippi law at the time, a person had to be less than 1/8 African American to be considered white. In the case of the Edgar and Randy, their mother, a direct descendant of Newt and Rachel, was listed as black on her birth certificate (she was 1/8 African American) with Edgar and Randy as white (their father was white). The people in Stringer, a community in Jasper County, considered the children to be African American since their mother was. Due to these beliefs, school officials at the white school in Stringer anticipated strong objections and possible violence if the children were admitted…

Read the entire article here.

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Charles Marsh recounts the formation and activities of The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

Posted in History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-11 02:37Z by Steven

Charles Marsh recounts the formation and activities of The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

The Civil Rights Movement as Theological Drama
The Project on Lived Theology
University of Virginia

Charles Marsh

In 1956, a new organization appeared, predisposed to the same political concerns articulated by the Citizen’s Council, but now underwritten by the state legislature.  The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was formed to broaden the scope of protecting “the Southern Way of Life.”  The commission expressed purpose was “to do and perform any and all acts and things deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the State of Mississippi, and her sister states, from encroachment thereon by the Federal Government”; nevertheless, it operated as “something akin to NKVD among the cotton patches,” as journalist Wilson Minor put it.  With an extensive surveillance network solidly in place, the Sovereignty Commission vigilantly monitored civil rights activists and any Mississippi citizens suspected of heterodoxy–“persons whose utterances or actions indicate they should be watched with suspicion on future racial attitudes.”  The commission pursued its ordained work by dispatching investigators and spies to gather information on civil rights workers, white liberals, and anyone else suspected of racial indiscretion.  By 1967, the commission had amassed an archive of more than ten thousand reports on people who worked for or represented “subversive, militant, or revolutionary groups.”  (By 1974, the files would grow to 87,000 names.)
Although the Sovereignty Commission’s principal motivation was “to prevent encroachment upon the rights of this and other states by the Federal Government” (as the charter stated), its obsession with racial purity could not be entirely explained by state’s rights fervor.  The commission’s agents seemed to spend as much energy tracking down reports of mixed-race babies and children as it did investigating the activities of subversive, militant and revolutionary groups.  Sadly, a reading of the available Sovereignty Commission files regarding rumors of interracial sex show us (in Adam Nossiter’s words) “cool accounts of lives damaged, destroyed, or threatened because black men were suspected of consorting with white women.”

Then there are reports that are stranger than fiction.  In , the director of the commission himself, Erle Johnston, Jr., wrote an eight page, single spaced report in December of 1963 explorinthe case of the woman Louvenia K. and her two sons, Edgar and Randy Edg the racial composition of the boys and their mother…

Read the entire article here.

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