The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, long-time segregationist watchdog which once boasted of having files on more than 10,000 individuals, was abolished today.
Gove. Cliff Finch signed into law a bill that crases the agency from state statutes and preserves its records under seal for 50 years.
Although the agency had not received any funds since former Gov. Bill Waller vetoed its appropriation in 1973, the disposition of its files was a ticklish question during the current legislative session.
Since 1973, the files have been stored in an underground vault near Jackson, although portions have been made public through newspaper disclosures.
Efforts to allow individuals named in the files access to their recoreds failed during floor debates. The House voted to destroy the files but later accepted a Seante version preserving them under seal.
The Sovereignty Commission, similar to other now-defunct segregationist watchdog groups created by Southern legislatures following federal desegregation mandates, was established in Mississippi in 1956.
It was given broad powers "to do and perform any and all acts and things deemed necessary to protect the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi . . . from encroachment thereon by the federal government."
The commission blossomed during the administration of former Gov. Ross Barnett, probing and spying on civil rights figures and funneling money into the White Citizens Council, a powerful private segregationist organization at the time.
Records since published in newspapers have shown the Sovereignty Commission also channedled funds to black organizations to an effort to generate dissension among civil rights figures.
The commission's own documents have revealed that it financed "a responsible Negro group in obtaining thousands of Negro signatures on petitions opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
The commission also took credit in its own documents for helping splinter a child development group by assisting in the formation of simialr group composed primarily of balcks and liberal whites.
In addition, commission records have shown, it took credit for ousting two college presidents in Mississippi.
The commission, in a report on its activities, boasted it had accumulated files containing the names of 10,000 individuals and about 270 organizations between 1964 and 1967 alone.
Legislative approval of the bill abolishing the agency and putting the records under seal gained impetus in the past two weeks when the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union charged in a federal law suit that spying is continuing by state agencies against non-criminals suspected of being agitators.
The ACLU late last month obtained an injuction from U.S. District Court Judge William Harold Cox prohibiting destruction of the Sovereignty Commission's files.
The House in January voted solidly to have the files destroyed. Proponents said exposure of the records would "brew discontent among the people of Mississippi" and would set back racial harmony achieved over the past several years.
An unusual coalition of the House's four black members and its most conservative members sought to have the records preserved.
The black delegates and several white lawmakers who have advocated publishing more state records failed in an effort to give persons named in the records access to the documents.
Following passage of the House measure to destroy the files, the State Department of Archives and History said it opposed destruction of the records. It asked to be given them under any requirements the law-makers might want to impose.
The Senate reworte the House bill to preserve the records and to make breaking the seal a felony punishable by a fine of $1,000 ot $5,000 and up to three years in jail. The House accepted the Senate changes.