Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Janann Sherman

Committee Member

Margaret Caffrey

Committee Member

Arwin Smallwood


This dissertation addressed the use of African American informants and allies by the Mississppi State Sovereignty Commission during the Civil Rights Movement. Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, Mississippi initiated various measures to maintain segregated schools and uphold its southern traditios. Among them was the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a state-funded created in 1956 whose primary purpose was to uphold state's rights and maintain segregation. Dubbed the "segregation watchdog," the agency had an investigative division that used political and civic leaders, law enforcement entities, private detective agencies, and informants which constitute an informal network of spies located in every county in Mississippi. Using the Sovereignty Commission records and varied primary and secondary sources, this research revealed that the typical African American informant was a middle-class male in a professional or highly regarded occupation such as educator, minister or newspaper publisher. Further, it was found that informants used the same educational, civic, fraternal and religious institutions to gain and disseminate information as those utilized by activists to advance the Movement. As informants, they spied on individuals, infiltrated civil right organizations, and promoted segregation. While their motives may never be fully understood, it is arguable that some entered into alliances with the Sovereignty Commission due to existing systems of patronage and paternalism. Though they held positions in which they could lead and inspire, they chose to stand in the shadows of the most pivotal periods in American history. The Commission ceased operations in 1973 and expended more than $1.5 million. While the agency symbolized Mississippi's primary state-funded mechanism to maintain the "closed society," it was not an isolated entity but an archetype for southern resistance. Other southern states including Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana used Mississippi as a model to establish similar commissions. As a whole, these commissions were a southern phenomenon that circumvented the principles of a democratic society to serve the needs of the elite while subjugating and co-opting the majority-black population.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.