Better Late Than Never: Justice for the Black Man Who Tried to Integrate the University of Southern Mississippi

Last month JBHE reported on efforts to pardon or overturn the conviction of Clyde Kennard. Kennard was a decorated war hero who in 1956 sought admission to the then all-white University of Southern Mississippi. Kennard was denied enrollment because of his race. But he nevertheless persisted in his efforts to be admitted to the institution.

Then, in the Jim Crow tradition of severely punishing Negroes who tried to rise above their assigned station, Kennard was accused of receiving $25 of stolen chicken feed. In 1960 he was sentenced to seven years at the notorious Parchman Prison Farm. He died three years later from colon cancer.

Late in 2005 the chief witness in the case against Kennard recanted his testimony and stated that Kennard had been framed. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour admitted that Kennard was innocent but said there was no provision under state law to pardon a man posthumously.

Then, in late May, a group of prominent Mississippians including former governor William Winter and former federal district court judge Charles Pickering petitioned the Forrest County Circuit Court to overturn Kennard’s conviction. Judge Bob Helfrich said that there is no proper vehicle for relief under Mississippi law. Nevertheless, he declared Kennard’s conviction “null and void.”