Mississippi Freedom Trail
Forrest County native Clyde Kennard was a pioneer in
hequest to desegregate higher education in Mississippi.
His efforts to enroll at Mississippi Southern College
(now USM) in 1955-1959 were obstructed by college
resident William D. McCain and state offictals. He
nonetheless persisted until he was falsely accused and
convicted of minor crimes and was sent to Parchman
Prison for seven years. While there he developed cancer
but was dented proper medical treatment until he was
critically ill. Tragically, he died on July 4, 1963,
at age thirty-six. Side BClyde Kennard
Born in Hattisburg June 12, 1927, Kennard moved to Chicage when he was twelve to live with an older sister and attend school. At eighteen, he joined the U.S.Army and served with distinction for seven years as a paratrooper, earning the rank of sergeant.
Using army savings, he made a down payment on a twenty-acre farm near Eatonville for his
mother and stepfather. He then enrolled at the University of Chicago and was in his senior
year when his stepfather died and Kennard returned to Mississippi to run the family farm. He
wanted to complete his college degree but was also clearly motivated to change the system.
Beginning in 1955, Kennard was refused admission to the all-white Mississippi
College in Hattiesburg. State Sovereignty Commission investigators, led by former FBI agent
Zack J. VanLandingham, sought derogatory information about Kennard to sabotage future applications but found none. His strategy to obstruct Kennard's application included false
shows of friendship by college president William D. McCain and Governor J.P. Coleman and visits by local black professionals in efforts to dissuade Kennard of his plans.
On September 15, 1959, Kennard was on campus to register. After McCain again denied him
entrance, Kennard returned to his car only to be arrested by two Forrest County constables on
trumped up charges of "driving at an excessive speed" and "illegal possession of whiskey.
Friends knew Kennard, a devout Baptist, never drank alcohol. Local judge T.C. Hobby found
Kennard guilty of both charges
On September 25, 1960, the Forrest County Cooperative-which had already foreclosed on
Kennards poultry farm and confiscated his stock-was burglarized. A young employee, Johnny
Lee Roberts, stole five bags of chicken feed, claiming that Kennard had planned the break-in.
Kennard was arrested and charged with accessory to burglary, a felony under Mississippi lavw
Kennard received the maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
At Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary) Kennard worked all day in cotton fields
In early 1962
he became ill and was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery at the
University of Mississippi Medical Center. Hospital staff advised parole due to his poor prog
nosis. Instead Kennard was returned to the cotton fields, with a medical checkup canceled.
The NAACP mobilized, and national figures including Martin Luther King and Dick Gregory
demanded his release. Finally, under pressure of bad publicity should Kennard die at Parchman,
Governor Ross Barnett ordered his release in the spring of 1963. Kennard underwent surgery
in Chicago, but it was too late. He died July 4, 1963, and was buried in the cemetery of the
Forrest County church where he had taught Sunday School and directed the choir. Subsequent
investigations showed that Kennard had been framed, and on May 17, 2006, the Forrest County
Circuit Court filed the papers that exonerated him.