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Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement Hardcover – January 12, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* With all the books on the civil rights movement for young people, it’s hard to believe there’s a topic that hasn’t yet been touched. But Bowers, through impeccable research and personal investigation, seems to have come up with something chillingly new. In 1956, the state of Mississippi conceived a Sovereignty Commission that began as a propaganda outlet and morphed into a spy network, with a goal of stopping integration and crushing the civil rights movement in the state. Written with clarity and understated power, the book methodically shows how white politicians organized the network and willing blacks accepted payment to infiltrate groups like the NAACP, or in some cases rail against civil rights organizations in churches and African American newspapers. After the election of Governor Ross Barnett, the commission’s tactics grew bolder, and violence became a part of the mix. Those with knowledge of the era will find this a vivid depiction of those turbulent days, but for them as well as students new to the history the extremes will be an eye-opener. The inset of photographs might have worked better spread throughout the text, but the story is so powerful it hardly needs visuals. Sources, an extensive bibliography, and copies of some of the commission documents (all were unsealed in 1998) are appended. Grades 7-10. --Ilene Cooper

About the Author

Rick Bowers is a journalist, songwriter, and head of creative projects for the AARP. He lives in Washington D.C.

Wade Henderson is the executive director of the Leadership Commission on Civil Rights.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1290L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books; 1 edition (January 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426305958
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426305955
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
When kids think of spies the general impression is almost always positive. There's that vague sense that Benedict Arnold was one and that was a bad thing, but generally their spy-knowledge is informed by folks like James Bond, Alex Rider, and other intrepid adventurers. The notion that spying could be used for evil instead of good doesn't get a lot of play in their literature. So when I read the subtitle of this book and saw that it read "The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement" I was (A) surprised I hadn't run across this story before and (B) I was amazed that we now had a book for kids where we see spies used for the ultimate nefarious purpose. Rick Bowers brings to light a story never before seen in a children's non-fiction publication. It's what went on behind the scenes in Mississippi when racism decided to get organized. In it you'll find both stories of unsung heroes and tales of horrendous crimes. This book is many things. Dull, it is not.

Sometimes you hear talk about the mundane nature of evil and nothing is more mundane than the name "Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission". Its activities, however, were anything but humdrum. In 1956, Mississippi state governor J.P. Coleman signed into law a bill calling for the creation of an agency whose sole purpose would be to protect the state of segregation, as it currently existed at that time. Essentially, this Southern state now had its own publicly funded spy program. Over the course of two decades they would infiltrate civil rights organizations, hire spies, gather information, and do everything in their power to fight the change that was coming.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The expose' by Rick Bowers provides the frightening details of how these state government funded and sanctioned organizations controlled the state of Mississippi in the 1960's. They were authorized by the state legislature and given broad powers by the segregationist Governor Ross Barnett. They were provided with unlimited resources to spy on the black citizens and any white sympathizers in their own state. The Soverignty Commission was the authorizing body at the state level and the White Citizen's Councils, usually partially made up of local Ku Klux Klan members, controlled the local communities. State's rights was the law and no federal government was going to tell the people of Mississippi what to do. The first time that I ever heard of the Soverignty Commission was in the John Grisham novel, The Chamber, this book fills in the details behind one of the more insidious organizations in Mississippi in the 1960's.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fear and hate, two of the most dangerous weapons on the planet. And boy did the segregationists use them to manipulate the public. Segregationists in Mississippi were so determined to undermine the civil rights movement and the legal decisions that were increasingly turning against them that they set up the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to combat it. They recruited spies to check on civil rights workers and anyone they considered a threat. Generally they tried to use more subtle methods to stop the movement, things such as manipulating jobs, white supremacist organizations, etc. All to undermine and stop integration.

Bowers shares the stories of men who worked for both sides, those who worked against integration and those who worked for it. Some of these stories were encouraging and some of them were sad. It just bothered me what these men were willing to do to preserve their way of life, no matter how distorted. A powerful example of how much some people hate change and yet how impossible to avoid.

This is an important book about the dangers of too much power in the hands of a few and how easily it can be misused. It's also an important book about the courage of individuals in making a difference despite the sacrifices that are sometimes required.
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Format: Hardcover
First, I couldn't put the book down. Then I couldn't believe that this occurred in America. And lastly, I couldn't believe I had never heard of this "Commission" before. This book delivers a crisp, clear story of another side of the Civil Rights movement, a story that typically never goes further than marches, cross burning and KKK uniforms. These are stories of average citizens who were ultimately jailed for applying to college or whose businesses were burned, or who were shot in cold blood, all for trying gain equality. My teenagers loved this book too - it ties into their growing awareness of social justice and why you have to push back when things are unfair. I looked up the MDAH web site and read the original spy reports, now digitized. Chilling. A must read for inquiring minds who know there is always another side to history. The photos were compelling too. Give it to your child's history teacher, today.
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Format: Hardcover
~A short, readable history, from National Geographic publishing, about the State of Mississippi's finely-tuned clandestine efforts of the 50s and 60s to stop the civil rights movement cold. It's understandable and interesting enough for school-agers studying the rights cause...and meaningful enough for adults who can remember the violent period, still with dismay and disbelief.

This book fills in the blanks, connects the dots, and provides answers to questions some of us never thought to ask.

~Informative reading. ~Outstanding effort by the author. ~Fast and fulfilling.
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