CASE OF THE MISSISSIPPI STATE SOVEREIGNTY COMMISSION FILES [HUNTER GRAY /JOHN
R. SALTER, JR.] AN EXTREMELY STRANGE BUT HISTORIC
CASE -- A PERSONAL ACCOUNT -- UPDATED
These are very brief basic background notes and materials on the
extraordinarily tangled legal case involving the files of the old
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission -- the essentially anti-civil
rights, secret police/spy operation actively maintained by Mississippi from
1957 until its funding was cut off in 1973 -- and its existence officially
ended in 1977.
When the Commission finally died, the files were completely sealed by the
State for many decades into the future. However, in due course, a Federal
court case, involving the Mississippi ACLU, began to take shape designed to
open the files -- and both myself and Ed King were part of that case. In
very early 1985, I was one of the very tiny handful of people permitted by
Federal Judge William Barbour, under a quite stringent secrecy order, to
inspect anything we wished in the still sealed Commission files. This
process, observed by representatives from the Mississippi State Attorney
General's office, took many days. At one point, I encountered a very
dull-sounding file involved with the allegedly beneficial impact of
segregation on Mississippi economic development -- obviously utter nonsense
but intriguing to an involved and activist sociologist like myself. I
opened the file and, forthwith, found -- buried within -- the Commission's
long master list of informants! This was a rich find for us, although there
was nothing super-surprising.
Following these days of examining voluminous Sovereignty Commission files,
I immediately wrote out in long-hand -- and hand-delivered -- this March 8
1985 letter to Attorney Charles Bliss, Jackson, then the ACLU lawyer. We
had been permitted to make -- under the secrecy order -- copies of
documents. I had made a few copies and now, with this letter, forwarded all
of those that I'd made to Attorney Bliss.
1] Attached is a folder containing material I've located and delineated.
[I've also gone through and identified a good deal of other stuff which I've
passed on to Ed King or/and Ken Lawrence -- e.g., Box #1 -- who are going
through it.] This folder includes, I should add, all copies of Sov. Comm.
material that I've made.
2] This material in the folder is labeled clearly in several ways. I have
not, however, coded it. You and cooperating attorneys are going to want to
go over all material, I'm sure.
3] It is quite clear to me, at least, that much material is missing from the
present collection of Sov. Comm. files. One example, among others, is the
absence of virtually any material relating to the Jackson Movement of
1962-63: our many public mimeographed letters and newsletters, leaflets,
lawsuit papers, arrest data, newsclippings, surveillance records of Sov.
Comm. re many public meetings, Salter and King auto wreck, and much, much
more. Although a Sov. Comm. investigator speaks of a "detailed report" on
me that is held by Sov. Comm. [he indicates this in File 7-4-43] -- and
there are numerous references to me hither-and-yon -- the only file on me
that I found is curiously sparse. Likewise, there is surprisingly little on
Medgar Evers, and virtually nothing on Prof. James Silver [note by HG: the
very courageous Ole Miss professor who befriended James Meredith and who
wrote the classic Mississippi: The Closed Society, 1963/64] or Claude Ramsey
[note by HG: the fearless head of the Mississippi AFL-CIO] -- each
thoroughly hated and feared by Miss. segregationists.
There are many other examples of very singular omissions.
I'm convinced the Sov. Comm. files have been purged -- probably several
times. [Italics supplied by HG.]
4] Two other dimensions:
A] I've seen, now, a great deal of Sov. Comm. material. While most of
has obvious historic value, it is laced with poisonous gossip, innuendo,
etc. and, in any case, is the business of the individuals concerned.
[Pamphlets, newsclippings, and other public documents fall into a
procedurally non-problematic category.
I very strongly feel that this material should not be thrown into the public
domain. I do feel that an orderly mechanism should be developed which can
release this material relating to individuals only to those individuals
involved. In order to protect victims, some scoundrels may also be
protected -- but the greater good and deeper decency mandate respect and
protection for individual privacy.
B] To assist in the development of an orderly mechanism -- and to develop a
broader base for this significant case -- I strongly suggest the development
of a small [no more than 12-20 persons] advisory committee. This case
"belongs," really, to several thousand people at least -- people who were
victimized targets. For the most part, I think that such an advisory
committee should be comprised of people representative of Sovereignty
Commission victimization during its active life.
All the best,
John R. Salter, Jr. "
[Note by HG: A copy of this letter is in my collected papers at both
Mississippi Department of Archives and History and State Historical Society
Although obviously purged several times, the Sovereignty Commission files
yielded hundreds of pages on me, and many on Eldri.]
Very unfortunately indeed, the Mississippi ACLU spurned this letter --
my suggestion of an advisory committee made up of victims. Receiving no
response, I wrote, again, to its then-director, and again there was no
answer. Most of the people in the Mississippi ACLU had not been involved at
all in the Civil Rights Movement. Attorney Bliss then left the case and
was replaced by other counsel. One individual, Ken Lawrence, who had had no
real involvement in the old Southern Civil Rights Movement and who had only come
into Mississippi in the very early 1970s, came to demand immediate open
disclosure, as did the major newspaper in the state, The Clarion-Ledger.
Both were interested in writing about the Commission. Myself and Ed King
were concerned with developing some sort of FOIA-type approach which would
provide the victims with their documents and protect their privacy -- but
which would provide NO protection, of course, for state officials or
informers. The State wanted everything sealed -- for decades to come.
Attorney Dixon Pyles, a courageous Mississippi lawyer who, forty years
before, had worked on behalf of Willie McGee, the hideously framed-up and
executed Black man at Laurel, Mississippi, came to represent myself and Ed
King and our position. In 1989, Judge William Barbour issued an
open-disclosure order. At that point, we went to the well-known Left law
firm -- Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman -- and to the
National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. I had had much contact with
NECLC [in the old days, simply ECLC] and with several lawyers connected with
the Rabinowitz firm. I now spoke extensively by telephone with
Mr. Leonard Boudin, the nationally renowned civil rights and civil liberties attorney, on
several occasions and corresponded with him. Mr. Boudin was
extremely empathetic. NECLC agreed to take the case, with Mr. Boudin and
others -- e.g., David Goldstein -- joining Dixon Pyles on behalf of the
Salter/King privacy position. Leonard Boudin died in late 1989 but his strong
commitment was carried forward by other lawyers in his firm and by NECLC.
In 1990, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in our favor that
Judge Barbour must provide some sort of effective privacy-protection mechanism.
Several years of acrimonious tangle then followed. Attorney David Goldstein and
other lawyers continued to assist us. I found it extremely difficult to work with Ed
King and, in
1991, ended virtually all direct contact with him -- continuing, however, to
very much work on and in the case through Attorney Dixon Pyles and others of
our legal team. In 1994, Judge Barbour finally issued a decision which
provided some privacy protection -- if formally requested by the victim.
Soon thereafter, myself and Dixon Pyles and
David Goldstein all
formally left the case, as did NECLC. I then returned, to Mississippi
Department of Archives and History, every single copy of every Sovereignty
Commission document that had, over the years, accrued to me in connection
with the case [a very large box which I shipped to MDAH via the highest UPS
security arrangement.] With a new lawyer, Ed King continued an increasingly
tangled legal fight -- and so did Ken Lawrence and Mississippi ACLU -- for
several years thereafter.
In March, 1998, amid still-continuing litigation, the first official release of
Sovereignty Commission documents began.
I -- and Eldri -- sought no personal privacy protection. Our hundreds of
recovered Sovereignty Commission documents are open to the public. Years ago
and as soon as I secured, under FOIA/PA, my FBI documents -- batch by batch,
totaling 3,000 [not counting the several hundred FBI refuses to give me], I
placed copies of all of those in my open papers at MDAH and SHSW.
[I should add that my F.B.I. files stretch from about 1957 to 1979.
And I suspect
there are many more by now. I was listed in Section A of the Reserve
Index and also on the Rabble Rouser Index. I like that. Some of my
F.B.I. pages, like some
of our Sovereignty Commission pages, are sprinkled throughout this Hunterbear
With this Link one can go to "Secret No More" to the letter, S
And you will find this -- my basic F.B.I. files, with the code
Salter, John R. Jr.
Salter, John R. Jr.
Salter, John R. Jr.
Salter, John R. Jr.
Salter, John R. Jr.
Ed King has kept his Sovereignty Commission material private. As it turned
out, Ken Lawrence has virtually nothing at all in the Commission files
relating to him -- which is not especially surprising since he was not
involved in the old Southern Movement.
On March 4, 1998, The Clarion-Ledger printed my final public comments on
the Sovereignty Commission case:
"SOVEREIGNTY VICTIMS SEEKING PRIVACY SHOULDN'T BE DENIED"
As someone historically involved in the Mississippi and general Southern
civil rights movement for much of the 1960s -- and as a conspicuous
"enmeshee" of the Sovereignty Commission papers mess -- I feel obliged to
make a comment or two with respect to the latter.
When, along with a very few others [all covered by Judge William Barbour's
reasonable secrecy order], I spent days examining the commission files in
the early spring of 1985, it was clear that the poisonous nature of much
personal, individual material demanded some sort of reasonable privacy
protection for victims [not protection for informers or state officers, et
At that point, I proposed to then Mississippi ACLU attorney, Charlie Bliss,
in a written paper, that an advisory committee made up of representative
commission victims be developed in order to work out, in an essentially
consensus fashion, a sensible balance between public disclosure on the one
hand and, on the other, privacy protection for victims. The M-ACLU did not
respond in any way to this. The "privacy position" -- assisted by always
excellent Jackson attorney Dixon Pyles -- then pursued, through long
entangled turf, the "sensible balance" between disclosure and victim
Following Judge Barbour's 1994 order, which provides for some privacy
protection, Dixon Pyles retired. Feeling that no realistic litigatory life
existed for the case, I left it also, convinced that further efforts should
focus on making the Barbour privacy protection mechanism broadly known, thus
enhancing its effectiveness.
Neither I, nor my wife, Eldri, is seeking any sort of privacy protection for
Those victims who have requested privacy protection via the Barbour order
should never be denied that or their motives be questioned by anyone. To do
otherwise would be to make a mockery of the Barbour mechanism and the
seventeen years of tangled, embittered litigation preceding it.
I have the highest regard for the integrity and capabilities of the
Mississippi Department of Archives and History and its excellent and
John Hunter Gray, Pocatello Idaho "
Links to representative examples of short sequences
of the many indeed pages from my own Sov Comm files:
Here is a page [available on the Net] giving all of the many versions
of my name -- and Eldri's, too, and even Baby Maria -- in the Sovereignty
Commission files. See how many of our names you can find!