It is the spring of 1964 and a long, hot Mississippi summer is about to explode. The civil rights community is gearing up for a major operation nicknamed Mississippi Freedom Summer. Hundreds — if not thousands — of mostly white student activists from the North are preparing to link up with dozens of mostly black freedom workers in the Magnolia State to accomplish what the Mississippi power structure fears the most: registering black people to vote.
The state’s entrenched white power structure has a different name for Freedom Summer — they call it an “invasion” and they are ready to fight back. For the segregationists Freedom Summer is nothing less than a declaration of war on the Mississippi way of life. The state responds by fortifying its Highway Patrol and 82 county sheriff offices with hundreds of newly sworn-in deputies, stockpiling tear gas and riot gear in larger cities and preparing prison wardens and county jailers to expect an influx of summer guests. This tinderbox needs very little to ignite.
But the most powerful men in the state have another even more powerful weapon in their arsenal — a secret so well kept it is known to only a small circle of insiders: The state of Mississippi has entered the spy business. A no-nonsense group called the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission has quietly created a secret, state-funded spy agency answering directly to the Governor. The Commission has infiltrated the civil rights coalition, eavesdropping on its most private meetings, and pilfering its most sensitive documents. The spies’ method of obtaining such sensitive information can be traced to an even more explosive secret known only to a handful of state officials that oversee the Commission and its anti-civil rights spy apparatus. The Commission’s most potent weapon is a cadre of black operatives code who have infiltrated the movement, rooting out its future plans, identifying its leaders and tripping up its foot soldiers. Along with a cadre of confederates, the black operatives are gaining the trust of civil rights crusaders to gain intelligence for the segregationist state.
PBS Monday, Feb. 10 at 10 PM