August 14, 2018  

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Civil Rights Pioneer Clyde Kennard to be Awarded Posthumous Honorary Doctorate from USM

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Clyde Kennard

Civil Rights Pioneer Clyde Kennard will be awarded a posthumous Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, during a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Spring 2018 Commencement ceremony.

“This will be an important day for The University of Southern Mississippi as we award Mr. Kennard, albeit posthumously, with a degree representing the education he sought and so rightfully deserved,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett. “As President of the University, and especially as its first African-American president, I am honored to be part of our institution’s progress in moving toward this outcome.”

Born June 12, 1927, in Hattiesburg, Miss., Kennard was a catalyst in the quest to desegregate higher education in Mississippi. From 1955 to 1959, Kennard made several attempts to enroll at Mississippi Southern College, now The University of Southern Mississippi, but he was denied entry by college, local and state officials.

Although his efforts were obstructed, Kennard persisted until he was falsely accused of multiple crimes and ultimately sentenced to seven years at Parchman Farm, now the Mississippi State Penitentiary. While there, he 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 on July 4, 1963, at the age of 36.

On March 30, 2006, Kennard was declared innocent after subsequent investigations showed that he had been framed.

To atone for its role in this injustice, in 1993, USM renamed the student services building on its Hattiesburg campus Kennard-Washington Hall in honor of Kennard and Dr. Walter Washington, the first African-American student to receive a doctoral degree from the institution.

In 2014, USM formally established the Kennard Scholars Program, which helps eligible students become and remain successful scholars and eventually future graduates of the University. Offering a variety of resources, which include a mentor program, academic enrichment, and civic engagement activities, more than 40 students have benefitted from this program since its inception.

“Bestowing the honorary doctorate upon Mr. Clyde Kennard demonstrates the importance of his efforts to achieve a quality education at The University of Southern Mississippi,” said Dr. Eddie Holloway, Dean of Students. “It further indicates the honor and respect that our institution now has for him, and we thank him for his heartfelt sacrifice.”

On February 2, 2018, a historical marker was installed in the heart of USM’s Hattiesburg campus to memorialize Kennard’s story. As the 26th marker of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, this landmark commemorates Kennard as one of the people in Mississippi who played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement.

“The University of Southern Mississippi has taken a number of steps to be an example of diversity and inclusion, and more than 60 years later, we are home to a diverse student body representing 72 countries, all 50 states, and every county in Mississippi,” said President Bennett. “Presenting this degree during the University’s most significant event serves as a reminder to all of Mr. Kennard’s legacy and the ideals he fought to achieve.”

USM’s Spring 2018 Commencement exercises will be held Friday, May 11, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., in Bernard Reed Green Coliseum on the Hattiesburg campus, and on Saturday, May 12, at 10 a.m., at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi.