On Friday Feb. 2, the University of Southern Mississippi kicked off Black History Month by honoring Clyde Kennard, a pioneer in the civil rights movement from Hattiesburg. The Mississippi Freedom Trail task force chose USM as its 25th marker to honor Kennard and all of his hard work to end segregation.
Kennard was born and raised in Hattiesburg. At the age of 12, he moved to Chicago to be with his older sister and to go to public school full-time. Upon graduation Kennard severed in the United States army as a Korean War soldier for seven years. When he returned, that is when his fight for education began. Kennard attempted to enroll in Mississippi Southern College (now known as the University of Southern Mississippi). Despite segregation being ruled as unconstitutional, Kennard was denied enrollment into the University because of his race. Though he was offered tuition at other universities, Kennard declined stating that he wanted to go to the university in his hometown.
In 1958, Clyde Kennard wrote a letter to the Hattiesburg, American explaining the implications of segregation and how integration would be inevitable at the Mississippi Southern College. Kennard was then framed by the state supported group, The Sovereign Commission. The group manipulated evidenced and accused Kennard of reckless driving and theft. He was sentenced to seven years in jail.
During his stay, He became ill with colon cancer and due to improper medical treatment, he died. From 2005 to 2006 many worked tirelessly in attempts to get Clyde Kennard’s conviction overturned. Three high School Students from Illinois, along with their teacher, plead to former Governor Haley Barbour, in attempt to fully pardon Mr. Kennard. However, Barbour denied the request stating that “it is not his policy to pardon anyone and would not do so for Kennard.” In May of 2006, his conviction was overturned was after they turned their efforts to a federal pardon.
In Celebration of his heroic Civil rights efforts, USM held a celebration in his honor. In attendance, were the members of The Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force, USM Presidents Dr. Rodney Bennett and Dr. Aubrey Keith Lucas (former), and Rev. Willie Grant, Brother in law to Mr. Clyde Kennard.
The Celebration began with a short reception, followed with the opening of the ceremony. Members of the USM Harlem Theatre Fraternity entertained attendees with an interpretive dance, of Clyde Kennard’s “Ode to the Death Angel” read by USM student Brandon Rue. In closing, Rev. Wilbert Singleton Jr, Implored the University for the addition of Clyde Kennard’s legacy to be added to the curriculum. “Without his courage and sacrifice, many of us would not be standing here today.” Says Singleton “ So I ask you, just like brother Kennard, what would you do to make your mark in history. Though we come so very far, we still have a long way to go.”