Academic journal article Journalism History

Percy Greene and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Academic journal article Journalism History

Percy Greene and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the relationship between Percy Greene, the black editor of the Jackson Advocate, and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission from 1956 to 1965. He was a paid informant of the commission, which was a state-funded segregationist organization that secretly gathered information on individuals who supported the civil rights movement. An examination of commission files reveals that it considered Greene, a conservative, to be an important contact person, and he was relied upon heavily to help the agency carry out its mission. This study provides insight into what motivated him to work for the commission and what activities he was involved in as an agent. It concludes that the relationship between Greene and the commission grew more complex as the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s.

During the civil rights era, mainstream newspapers through out Mississippi spoke out against the "evils" of integration and charged that Communists were responsible for stirring up trouble. It was not unusual for the press to take this position because it reflected and encouraged the maintenance of a segregationist system that had been woven into the social structure of the South. However, the editor of the largest black newspaper in Mississippi1 created a controversy not only because he endorsed segregation but because he went to great lengths to align himself with a power structure that was based on white supremacy.

This article focuses on the relationship between Percy Greene, the black editor of the Jackson Advocate, and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission from 1956 to 1965. The commission was established by the state legislature in 1956, two years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board ofEducation decision outlawing segregated public schools. Commonly referred to as the state's "segregation watch-dog agency," the commission created an investigative division for the purpose of gathering information on civil rights activities and individuals who threatened to do away with the "Southern way of life."

Much has been written about Greene's association with the commission. For example, Erie Johnston, in Mississippi's Defiant Years, gave a brief description of Greene's duties. Johnston, who served as public relations director of the commission, portrayed him as an "honest" man, one who provided "an offsetting voice to those who could find only racial wrongs in Mississippi."2 Julius Thompson, in Percy Greene and the Jackson Advocate, offered a more detailed account of his work. Thompson noted Greene's role as an informant and said his continued relationship with the commission and his scathing attacks against civil rights tarnished his reputation in the black community.3 Caryl Cooper examined Greene's editorial philosophy in the historical context of American race relations and the black press. She wrote that Greene allowed the Sovereignty Commission as well as the White Citizens Council to use the Advocate as a vehicle for the dissemination of anti-civil rights messages.4 While this literature contains important information about Greene's beliefs and involvement with the Sovereignty Commission, extensive research has not been conducted on the scope and content of the commission files. This study helps readers to understand what motivated Greene to act as a paid informant for the agency and reveals that the commission considered Greene to be an important contact person, who was relied upon heavily to help the agency carry out its mission.

In order to place this research in perspective, it is important to examine Greene's early days at the helm of the Advocate, when he enjoyed the support of the black community. He founded the paper in 1939, and its motto included a promise to stand "with the people, by the people, and for the people." A strong advocate of voting rights for blacks, he argued that participation in the political process was essential to social progress. He also believed that blacks should be treated equally in the area of education and argued against discrimination in the allocation of public money for black schools, pointing out the contribution of black schools to the culture and intellectual development of the state's citizens. …

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