USM Students Work on Digital Site Dedicated to Kennard Story

Published 1:25 pm Saturday, December 4, 2021

Students in a philosophy of law class at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) this semester delved into living history while also beginning work on a digital humanities site dedicated to the Clyde Kennard story.

Kennard, an African American who was denied entry to Southern Miss between 1955 and 1959 by college, local, and state officials, died after inadequate medical treatment while serving prison time for crimes for which he was falsely accused.

Dr. Samuel Bruton, professor of philosophy and instructor of the course, explains that the Kennard case provides students an opportunity to see how the legal process can be corrupted and distorted. The students’ research during the class also contributed the larger benefit of compiling materials related to Kennards’s case, which currently are only available in scattered locations across the web, for a centralized, readily accessible digital humanities site.

Students researched materials from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, transcribed previously recorded interviews, and conducted oral histories with people who had figured prominently in Kennard’s story.

The information they gathered will soon be available on the new digital humanities site and was also presented this fall at Presbyterian Christian School, Sacred Heart High School, and during a community presentation at Eureka School. During the Eureka School presentation, students were able to hear from many people who were acquainted with Kennard and actively involved in his case.

Cynthia Myles, one of Bruton’s students, said this opportunity has been a learning experience.

“Being able to go and conduct oral history interviews is like you are literally speaking to history,” said Myles.

And though Kennard didn’t see legal justice during his lifetime, Bruton’s students are seeing how changes to the law are necessary to bring about justice.

“Legal change is the way to go about promoting justice through legal systems though it doesn’t always exist there,” said student Emma Cox.

Bruton underscored the importance of always remembering and honoring Kennard’s story.

“It is a clear example of racial injustice,” said Bruton. “It is a potent reminder of unconscionable behavior that occurred not so long ago, right here in Hattiesburg and USM.”

PHI 453 is one of several service-learning courses offered at the University of Southern Mississippi. Service-learning courses are supported by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and involve course-based, credit-bearing educational experiences in which students participate in organized service activities that meet identified community needs, A list of service-learning courses offered at USM can be viewed on the Center for Community Engagement’s website at usm.edu/cce.