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*Clyde Kennard was born on this date in 1927. He was an African American civil rights pioneer and martyr.
Kennard was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1927; he moved to Chicago at the age of 12 to aid his injured sister, Sarah. He stayed and graduated from Wendell Phillips High School, then entered the U.S. Army. After serving as a paratrooper during the Korean War, he returned to Chicago and started college at the University of Chicago.
In 1955, after completing his junior year, Kennard returned to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to care for his stepfather, who had become disabled and needed help. Kennard purchased land in Eatonville to start a chicken farm. He also taught Sunday school at the Mary Magdalene Baptist Church. While there on three separate occasions (1956, 1957 and 1959), Kennard sought to enroll at Mississippi Southern College (now known as University of Southern Mississippi) to complete his undergraduate degree. USM was still segregated.
On December 6, 1958, Kennard published a letter in the Hattiesburg American newspaper. He wrote that he was a “segregationist by nature” but “integrationist by choice,” and gave a reasoned explanation as to why segregation in education was impractical and bound to be replaced by one integrated system. After publication, on September 15, 1959, constables Charlie Ward and Lee Daniels for reckless driving arrested him.
After he was jailed, Ward and Daniels claimed before Justice of the Peace T. C. Hobby to have found five half pints of whiskey, along with other liquor, under the seat of his car. Mississippi was a "dry" state, and possession of liquor was illegal until 1966. Kennard was convicted and fined $600. He soon became the victim of an unofficial local economic boycott (also a tactic of the Sovereignty Commission), which cut off his credit.
Kennard was arrested again on September 25, 1960 with an alleged accomplice for the theft of $25 worth of chicken feed from the Forrest County Cooperative warehouse. Kennard went to trial, with the accomplice, Johnny Lee Roberts, testifying that Kennard paid him to steal the feed. On November 21, 1960, an all-white jury deliberated 10 minutes and found Kennard guilty. (At this time, because of having been essentially disfranchised and unable to vote in Mississippi since 1890, Blacks could not serve on juries.) He was convicted and sentenced to seven years at Parchman Penitentiary.
Although he was terminally ill with cancer, the governor refused to pardon him, but released him in January 1963. Comedian and Activist Dick Gregory paid for his flight to Chicago, where he went for medical treatment. He twice underwent surgery at Billings Hospital on the University of Chicago campus over the next five months, but died of cancer 10 days after the latter procedure on July 4, 1963. In 2005 after evidence that Kennard had been framed was published, supporters tried to secure a posthumous pardon for him, but Governor Haley Barbour refused.