Clyde Kennard applied - unsuccessfully - to the then-segregated University of Southern Mississippi three times before being framed for a false crime and sent to prison at Parchman, being released only after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
On May 27, 61 years after his imprisonment and 58 years after his death, officials gathered at Scianna Hall at the University of Southern Mississippi to unveil a marker dedicating a stretch of U.S. 49 in Hattiesburg to Kennard.
“I was thinking through what today meant, beyond unveiling another dedication of a portion of a public highway,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “The Mississippi Legislature authorizes dozens of these each and every year, but to us, this one’s different.
“As I was getting ready this morning, the word that kept coming to mind was ‘redemption.’ Redemption not for Clyde Kennard - because all who knew him would say he died a more righteous man than any of us could ever hope to be - but redemption for us, for this community."
The dedicated segment of highway begins at the intersection of U.S. 49 and Hardy Street, and runs one mile north. The measure is the result of a legislative effort that took place during the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature, through Senate Bill 2481 and the efforts of Sens. Juan Barnett, Joey Fillingane, Chris Johnson and John Polk.
“It is an honor to be here at this particular time and at this particular place,” said Barnett, who represents District 34. “(It is an honor) to place this marker on Highway 49, close to Southern Miss, so that those who travel across this country on our highway can see the efforts of Mr. Clyde Kennard.”
Kennard was born in Hattiesburg in 1927 and moved to Chicago when he was 12 years old to attend public school full-time. He graduated from Wendell Phillips High School before serving in the U.S. Army for seven years, fighting in World War II and the Korean War.
After his military service, Kennard enrolled at the University of Chicago, but after completing his junior year, he returned to Hattiesburg to help his mother on a chicken farm he had purchased with money earned in the military.
Wanting to complete his college degree, Kennard applied to Southern Miss three times – in 1955, 1958 and 1959.
The first time, Kennard was unable to fulfill the school’s requirement of five recommendations from graduates living in his county. The second time, local and state officials convinced Kennard the time was not right for integrating the college, and he withdrew his application.
Kennard’s third application was rejected by the university president on a technicality.
On September 15, 1959, Kennard was arrested in Hattiesburg for reckless driving after constables said they found liquor – which was illegal in Mississippi at the time – in his car. He was arrested again on September 25, 1960, for allegedly stealing $25 worth of chicken feed from the Forrest County Cooperative warehouse, and sentenced to seven years in prison to be served in Parchman.
In 1961, while in prison, Kennard was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery before being sent back to Parchman. He was released in 1963 after Civil Rights leaders in Hattiesburg embarked on a campaign to secure his release, but died a few months later.
“Upon enrolling at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1970, my pledge was to give more meaning and more purpose to the life and legacy of Mr. Clyde Kennard,” said Eddie Holloway, who serves on the Hattiesburg Public School District Board of Trustees and is retired as Dean of Students for Southern Miss. “Oftentimes we don’t like history, because we can’t do anything about it, but we do the best we can to remember it.
“In many cases, we do what we can following the reflections of the insights gained, and then we find a greater reason to determine what really matters.”