Tuesday, July 4

Died on the 4th of July


Clyde Kennard [June 20 (or June 12), 1927--July 4, 1963]
in a photo taken just before his death

A sergeant in the paratroops, he won a Bronze Star in Korea. Returning home, he attended the University of Chicago until his stepfather became disabled, then died, which forced him to move back to Forrest County, Mississippi, to run the family farm. While living in Mississippi he attempted three times to enroll in the (all-white) Mississippi Southern College.

Kennard's insistence soon drew the attention of the White Citizens' Council and the State Sovereignty Commission. Leaving an interview with MSU President William D. McCain Kennard was arrested for reckless driving (he had just returned to his car). While he was in jail officers found five half-pints of whiskey under the driver's seat; the non-drinking Kennard was convicted of illegal liquor possession and fined $600. White businesses in Hattiesburg refused to trade with him.

A year later Kennard was arrested and charged with stealing five sacks of chicken feed which were found on his property. Kennard was convicted by another all-white jury based solely on the testimony of his "accomplice", Johnny Lee Roberts. Kennard is sentenced to seven years. In 1961 he is diagnosed with colon cancer and undergoes surgery, after which he is returned to Parchman Farm, where he is used as a laborer.

After the story gains national attention, Governor Ross Barnett grants Kennard an indefinite suspended sentence in January 1963. He undergoes two more surgeries but dies shortly after the second.

In 1998 the files of the Sovereignty Commission are made public, proving the conspiracy to frame Clyde Kennard.

In 2005 Johnny Lee Roberts admitted in an interview that his testimony in the theft case was false.

In 2006 both Governor Haley Barbour and the State Parole Board refused pleas for a posthumous pardon (Barbour did declare March 30 "Clyde Kennard Day").

On May 17 Judge Bob Helfrich threw out Kennard's theft conviction.

1 comment:

KathyR said...

Dying on the 4th of July's gotta be the only thing he has in common with Ken Lay, actual thief.