September 21, 2018  

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Clyde Kennard Documentary to be shown Feb. 21 at Hattiesburg Convention Center

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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 (USM).

“Measure of Progress: The Clyde Kennard Story” will premiere Wednesday, Feb. 21, 6-8 p.m. at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center, located at 1 Convention Center Plaza off of U.S. Highway 49. Visit http://www.laketerrace.com/ for more information about the convention center. Admission is free and light refreshments will be served.

Held in conjunction with Black History Month, this program will include a screening of the documentary, along with presentations by members of the 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.

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, Ji Hoon Heo, and Bobby D. Steele, Jr. to turn their idea for a documentary on Kennard’s life into reality.

“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.

Along with the Freedom50 Research Group, this event is presented by the Mississippi Humanities Council and the USM Center for Black Studies. For more information, contact Dr. Jenkins at cheryl.jenkins@usm.edu or Dr. Coleman at loren.coleman@usm.edu.