Karen Ball's Reviews > Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement

Spies of Mississippi by Rick Bowers
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's review
Feb 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: cybils-mg-ya-nonfic-2010
Read in November, 2010

In 1956, Governor J.P. Coleman signed House Bill 880 which created the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. It was dedicated to the preservation of segregation: separate laws, schools, facilities and even entrances based on race. It created propaganda, including movies that were supposed to show how segregation was good for society. The commission was funded by the state, answered directly to the governor, and used its resources to spy on people in Mississippi for 20 years. Not all of the commission's agents were white. There were black people who acted as spies for many reasons: some did it because it paid very well, some did it to try to ensure their jobs (like the black school superintendent who didn't want integration because it meant that he would lose his job), and some acted as double agents, giving the commission false information. Though the commission never participated directly in acts of violence, it provided information to the Ku Klux Klan which was used in murders, lynchings, assaults and intimidation. By the early 1960's, the commission was regularly providing "watch lists" of names, addresses, and license plate numbers to police and sheriff's departments across the state. Those departments were filled with Klan members, who used the information to terrorize people. The Civil Rights Movement in America wasn't just about overall legal rights -- it was about everyday citizens making choices to act that often put their lives at risk... for things as small as which door to enter the grocery store or which seat to take on the bus, and as enormous as marches and demonstrations that would likely lead to vicious, violent attacks. The spies in Mississippi's Sovereignty commission network made sure of that. Rick Bowers has used interviews of surviving members and spies, the actual files of the commission, photos and other primary source materials to bring this story of abuse of power and utter disregard for individual rights to light. Strong 7th grade readers and up.

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