The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
1972 - Percy Greene had a terrible secret. When the civil rights pioneer and publisher of the Jackson Advocate newspaper agreed to be interviewed by us in December of 1972, he had been secretly serving as an informant for the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission for years. It was a secret he would take to the grave when he passed in 1977 and not revealed until the Commission’s files were unsealed much later.
So why would a man so nationally respected as a voice for the disenfranchised black citizens of Mississippi agree to share damaging information about the Civil Rights Movement’s leadership with the state?
It is an intriguing question. Perhaps it was Pride—bitterness at having lost his role as the state’s voice for equality under the law—that drove him to do it. Maybe it was his belief that the Movement was a communist plot to overthrow the country: a conspiracy theory that echoes today’s criticism of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Whatever the reason, Greene’s role as an informant has forever overshadowed his legacy.
In 1940, Greene, organized the Mississippi Negro Democrats Association. In this episode, he describes their early efforts to register Black Mississippians to vote. By 1944, over 8,000 African Americans had been registered to vote in Mississippi. Greene recalls Senator Theodore Bilbo’s campaign of black voter suppression.
As publisher of the Jackson Advocate, Greene championed equal rights under the law. Even so, he believed the Civil Rights Movement was in fact, a communist plot. Greene opposed efforts to integrate public schools and the use of the word “Black” instead of “Negro.” He explains how his call for a “New Liberalism” throughout the South would be more tolerable to whites than forced desegregation.
Greene’s characterization of young civil rights workers as communists and militants made him a pariah of the Movement. He discusses how his newspaper’s circulation dropped as a result and how he has worked to gain more subscribers.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
PHOTO: State Sovereignty Comm. file photo - MS Dept. of Archives and History