In 1963, imprisoned Clyde Kennard died of cancer. He had been convicted in Mississippi of helping a man steal $25 of chicken feed. Johnny Lee Roberts, a fellow black man, told officials that Clyde asked him to steal the chicken feed. Mr. Roberts, who did the stealing, served a suspended sentence. Mr. Kennard was convicted as an accessory and received one year for every $3.57 of the feed. And three years into his seven year sentence, he died.
Since then, Mr. Roberts, the only witness, has admitted that Mr. Kennard was guilty of no crime whatsoever. Mr. Kennard was, however, trying to desegregate the University of Southern Mississippi. As I read in the New York Times tonight, Clyde Kennard served seven years in the Army in Germany and Korea and for three years, attended the University of Chicago as an undergraduate. Moving home to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he wanted to finish his education at Mississippi Southern, but was not allowed because it was reserved only for whites. According to reports, not only was he denied admission, but state officials plotted to kill him. The Times goes on to reveal that "the files of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the state's segregationist spy agency, show that killing or framing Mr. Kennard was openly discussed as preferable to allowing him to enroll at the college."
But now that the state and Governor Haley Barbour acknowledge that Mr. Kennard suffered a terrible wrong and was falsely imprisoned, one would think that he would receive a pardon. Mississippi's governor, however, says that he will not issue a pardon posthumously. I somewhat agree with him when he eloquently states that "a posthumous act won't right a wrong." Clyde Kennard suffered greatly and was denied the life that he should have been free to live, but I like to think that his soul no longer suffers and that whether or not some politician pardons him or not means nothing now. But there is a family here. There are those who are here today and who share his lineage. For them, I think that a pardon would be a very respectful and right thing to do.
More on Clyde Kennard and how you can help at www.clydekennard.org.