September 8th, 1959
Black Man Vows to Sue Mississippi Southern College if Denied Admission Due to Race
In 1955, Clyde Kennard, a black U.S. Army veteran and Mississippi native, attempted to enroll in Mississippi Southern College, an all-white public university in the city of Hattiesburg. Mr. Kennard's credentials met the criteria for admission, but his application was denied because he was unable to provide references from five alumni in his home county.
In December 1958, in a letter to a local newspaper, Mr. Kennard announced his intent to re-apply to the university. In response, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission – a state agency formed to protect segregation – hired investigators to research Mr. Kennard's background and uncover details that could be used to discredit him; these attempts were unsuccessful. Soon after, Mr. Kennard withdrew his application after the governor of Mississippi personally requested that he do so.
On September 8, 1959, Mr. Kennard once again tried to apply for admission to Mississippi Southern College. In a letter written to the college's administration, he declared that, if again rejected, he would sue the University for denying him admission based on his race. After he unsuccessfully tried to register for courses on September 15, 1959, Mr. Kennard was charged with illegal possession of alcohol.
Despite this legal retaliation, Mr. Kennard continued his attempts to register at Mississippi Southern. In September of 1960, he was arrested and charged with assisting in stealing $25 worth of chicken feed from a local store. Although there was little evidence against him, an all-white jury convicted him of being an accessory to burglary, and he was sentenced to seven years in state prison. In July of 1963, while still incarcerated, Mr. Kennard died of colon cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated in prison; he was 36 years old.