Truth Commission in Mississippi

A few weeks back, I attended an exploratory conversation regarding the potential development of a Truth Commission in Mississippi.  The purpose the organizers (Susan Glisson, among others, from the Winter Institute at Ole Miss) stated is to “provide an historic forum for the people of the state to understand a divisive and violent history.  From this beginning, we can create effective organizing strategies and public policy initiatives to confront structural racism.”

This opportunity to explore and understand our past is important for this state to be able to move beyond the racism that is incidiously intertwined in our governmental policies from the state level to the most benign local level.  Many people were impacted by Mississippi’s Sovereignty Commission created by State Legislature in 1956. This was a spy organization created to spy and squelch civil rights activities in the state.  This state mandated commission supported the violent efforts of the white supremacist groups.   It is time for us to look at the full scope of its reach.  It is time to hear the stories of the lives impacted and destroyed by this arm of the law in Mississippi. 

The potential of mandating a Truth Commission to look at our painful past is also vital to Unitarian Universalists in this state.  Many Unitarians and Universalists were active in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.   We suffered for our stance.  Here in Jackson Mississippi our minister received death threats and were critically wounded.   The current building of Jackson’s congregation was built to reduce the risk of firebombing and sniper shooting. It was built in the early 1970’s when the Synagogue in Jackson was firebombed and leveled by that event.   At Our Home in Ellisville, trucks would pull up during Sunday services and yell out threatening words to the worshippers within.  African American Churches across Mississippi burned in those days.  Fear was part of waking up in the morning. 

Healing can only begin when we allow ourselves to look at the wounds that continue to define us and understand how those wounds impact our decisions and actions today.  Understanding how our past has shaped our present can empower us to make different choices.  Choices where justice, compassion, and equity can be enhanced in our state.

I look forward to the conversation, understanding that such a conversation will be painful to hear but also understanding that hearing it 30, 40, 50 years after its occurance is not as painful as it was for those individuals living it the first time.   May our hearts be ready to embrace the truth and may that truth truly set us free to reach our full potential as people of faith.

Rev. Fred L Hammond 

Published in: on March 22, 2008 at 2:54 pm  Comments (2)  


  1. Happy Easter, Fred! Love the blog. I’ll add it to my own blogroll.

    I like this idea. Mississippi could learn a great deal from South Africa with respect to the issue of how to take productive steps to dismantle apartheid, which still exists in Mississippi as a social phenomenon. (Of course, it still exists in South Africa as a social phenomenon, too, but I think the South African government has done a better job of confronting it.)


    – There was a movement in Mississippi (unsuccessful, thank God) during the early 1990s to shut down several public HBCUs because they were deemed no longer necessary by certain white decisionmakers. In South Africa, it was understood that this sort of approach would be unacceptable–that shutting down black universities would send a message that the goal was not the integration of white and black Afrikaners, but rather the assimilation of black South Africans into Afrikaans culture. It would also have the negative effect of replacing black institutions with white institutions–a hostile takeover, in effect. What South Africa did instead, when a merger seemed appropriate, was shut down both white and black universities in a given area and establish a new, integrated institution to replace them. So the student body of white Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir Christelike hoer Onderwys merged with the black University of Natal to form the integrated Southwest University, which was operated by a multiracial administration.

    – And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission could also be something that’s adapted to Mississippi, I believe. From what I have been told (and from what I have read), the Commission’s importance to the healing of South Africa would be hard to overstate.

    What South Africans tend to get right, and what white Mississippians tend to get wrong, is that integration cannot be simply the transfer of black Americans from black to white culture, or the transfer of black social interaction from black to white institutions. What is needed instead is a legitimate process of integration in which white Mississippians prepare to become part of black culture to the same degree that black Mississippians prepare to become part of white culture. The process must be mutual or it won’t work. It also needs to be very open–it’s time to pull the scabs off and let our state bleed a little bit by confronting its past.

    Unfortunately, given that this is a state that still hangs the Confederate flag from the Capitol building, I’m not sure policymakers have what it takes to get this done. But I think a Truth Commission, if properly administered, would be a step in the right direction.

  2. Tom: Thank you for your comments. These are definitely the kind of advancing the conversation that I am looking for here on this blog. I agree, there is little hope that the Policymakers will have what it takes to get this done. There was some discussion within the legislature, last year to have a Truth Commission but it never went very far. So there is some awareness at the capitol that this would be important work. However, because of the complicity of the state government with racism in the establishment of the State Sovereignity Commission, such work cannot be ordained from that office. There are too many secrets that could potentially be forced to remain secret.

    The exploratory conversations on developing a Truth Commission will continue across the state. How this develops will depend on the willingness of the people to do the painful and difficult work with honesty and integrity. One thing is clear to me, is the Truth Commission needs to be an independent body with the freedom to turn over as many stones as possible to see what fossils remain there.

    Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

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