A new documentary on the life of a civil rights pioneer who sought to desegregate higher education in Mississippi is the result of a collaborative research effort by a group of faculty members at The University of Southern Mississippi. The film was produced by University
of Mississippi journalism and integrated marketing communications professors Alysia Steele and Bobby Steele, Jr.
“Measure of Progress: The Clyde Kennard Story” will premiere at the University of Mississippi, Overby Center Auditorium Tuesday, March 20, 2018, from 6-8 p.m. The program is free and open to the public. There will be a panel to answer questions after the premiere. Clarion-Ledger investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell, who was interviewed in the film, may attend the event.
Southern Miss Freedom50 Research Group, an interdisciplinary group of scholars in the USM Departments of English, History, and School of Mass Communication and Journalism researching racial progress occurring at the university over the last 50 years, reached out to University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism professors Alysia and Bobby Steele to produce the 15-minute documentary. Project funding was provided by the Mississippi Humanities Council.
A native of Hattiesburg, Clyde Kennard made several attempts to enroll at then Mississippi Southern College, now The University of Southern Mississippi, but was denied entry by college, state and local officials. Although his efforts were obstructed, Kennard persisted until he was falsely accused and convicted of multiple crimes, then ultimately sentenced to seven years at Parchman Farm, now the Mississippi State Penitentiary. While there, Kennard was diagnosed with cancer, but was denied proper medical treatment until he was critically ill. He was released on parole in January, 1963 and died July 4, 1963, at the age of 36.
On March 30, 2006, Kennard was declared innocent in Forrest County (Miss.) Chancery Court – the same court where he had been convicted decades earlier – after subsequent investigations showed he had been framed.
To atone for its role in this injustice, USM in 1993 renamed its student services building Kennard-Washington Hall in honor of Kennard and Dr. Walter Washington, the first African American to earn a doctorate from the university. USM also honors Kennard’s legacy through a scholarship program that bears his name, which to date has benefited more than 40 of its students.
Members of the Freedom50 Research Group include Dr. Sherita Johnson, associate professor of English, director of the USM Center for Black Studies and organizer of Freedom50; Dr. Cheryl Jenkins, associate professor of mass communications and journalism and assistant director for the Center for Black Studies; Dr. Rebecca Tuuri, assistant professor of history, and Dr. Loren Saxton Coleman, assistant professor of mass communications.
As the Freedom50 Research Group evolved, Dr. Coleman said it became clear it needed to focus its work on Clyde Kennard, because “his story is paramount in this university’s journey to desegregation and racial progress,” and engaged producers Alysia Burton Steele and Bobby D. Steele, Jr. to turn their idea for a documentary on Kennard’s life into reality. Meek School of Journalism and New Media professor Ji Hoon Heo assisted as camera operator and drone photographer.
“It has been our goal to share his story of triumph, not just tragedy, with the university and greater Hattiesburg community,” Coleman said. “We want each student that walks on this campus to know the Kennard story, understand his sacrifice and see themselves as part of his legacy,” said Dr. Coleman.
Dr. Jenkins described the project as “a labor of love for both the producers and the research group.”
“We wanted to make sure Mr. Kennard’s legacy would be the highlight of our work, and that his determination to receive an education would be an inspiration to all,” Dr. Jenkins said.