Spies of Mississippi

Preview (:30)
Clip (:37)
Clip (:48)
Clip (:41)

About the Film

Martin Luther King, Jr. holds up a photograph of missing civil rights workers. protesters hold hands and sing 'We Shall Overcome' An African American man holding movie camera as he films his photographer. Meeting of civil rights workers.

Spies of Mississippi is a journey into the world of informants, infiltrators, and agent provocateurs in the heart of Dixie.

The film tells the story of a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain “the Mississippi way of life,” white supremacy, during the 1950s and ‘60s. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) evolved from a predominantly public relations agency to a full-fledged spy operation, spying on over 87,000 Americans over the course of a decade.

The Commission employed a network of investigators and informants, including African Americans, to help infiltrate some of the largest Black organizations like National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The MSSC was granted broad powers to investigate private citizens and organizations, keep secret files, make arrests, and compel testimony for a state that, as civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot says in the film, “was committed to an apartheid system that would make South Africa blush.”

The film reveals the full scope and impact of the Commission, including its links to private white supremacist organizations, its ties to investigative agencies in other states, and even its program to bankroll the opposition to civil rights legislation in Washington D.C.

Weaving in chilling footage of Ku Klux Klan rallies and government propaganda films alongside rare images and interviews from the period, Spies of Mississippi tracks the Commission’s hidden role in many of the most important chapters of the civil rights movement, including the integration of the University of Mississippi, the assassination of Medgar Evers, and the KKK murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.

The Filmmaker

Dawn Porter, Director/Producer

Filmmaker Dawn Porter

Dawn Porter founded Trilogy Films in 2007 and made her feature documentary directorial debut with Gideon’s Army, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Best Editing Award. Gideon's Army was nominated in the Best Documentary category for the 2014 Independent Sprit Awards, and had its broadcast premiere on HBO. Porter was selected for the prestigious Tribeca All Access program, where she won the 2011 juried Creative Promise Award for Gideon’s Army. She was named one of 2012’s “15 Emerging Directors to Watch” by Realscreen magazine, and one of The Independent’s “10 Doc Filmmakers to Watch.” Aside from the Independent Lens film Spies of Mississippi, Porter is developing a feature film based on The New York Times best-selling book The New Jim Crow by acclaimed author Michelle Alexander. She also received support from the MacArthur Foundation for her feature documentary Trapped, about abortion clinics in the deep South. Before becoming a filmmaker, Porter was the Director of News Standards and Practices at ABC News, and Vice President of Standards and Practices at A&E Networks. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Georgetown University Law Center.