Spies of Mississippi

Spies of Mississippi

About the Film

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. MORE

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

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.


Film Credits

A Film by
Dawn Porter

Directed and Produced by
Dawn Porter

Executive Producer
Martina Haubrich

Rick Bowers

Risa Morimoto

Summer Damon

Consulting Producer
Kathy Slobogin

Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez

Additional Editing
Cleven Ticeson

Chris Hilleke
Jesse Beecher
Francisco Aliwalas
Hannah Gregg

Production Manager
Elizabeth Ventura
Jan Müller

Sound Recordist
Patrick Sheehan
Joey Gibson
Ivo Hanak

Additional Camera
Patrick Sheehan

Assistant Editor
Tim Kauffeld

Rich Remsberg

Production Associate
Amanda Goscinski

On-Line Editor
Markus Thüne

Angelica Allen
Aden Brown
Louise Lamb

Graphics Facility
Studio 422

Sound Mixer and Engineer
Tobias Fritzsch

Post Production Facility
LOOKS Film & TV GmbH

Margaret Block
Rick Bowers
Kenneth Dean
Ralph Eubanks
Lawrence Guyot
Edwin King
Robert Luckett
Neil McMillen
Jerry Mitchell
Bob Moses
Janet Moses
Congressman Bennie Thompson
Hollis Watkins
Governor William Winter

Archival Courtesy of
ABC News
Associated Press
Margaret Block
Estuary Press
Clyde Kennard, The Clarion Ledger
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
McCain Library and Archives
T3 Media
The Image Works
The University of Southern Mississippi

Music Provided by
LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH

"Down in Mississippi"
Words and music by J.B. Lenoir
Arc Music Corp. (BMI)
As recorded by Mavis Staples

Courtesy of Anti- Records
"Nasty Letter"
Music by Otis Taylor
Performed by Otis Taylor
From the album Truth Is Not Fiction 2003 Telarc International

Special Thanks
Rachel Mayes
Brenda Holley
Miller Chevalier Chartered
Veterans for Mississippi
The Harned Family
Celia Tisdale
David Pilcher
The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

Studio Support Provided by
Mississippi Public Broadcasting

Commissioning Editor for NDR / ARTE
Ulrike Dotzer

Co-Producers for KCTS 9
John Lindsay
Emma Dively

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

Funding Provided by
Off The Fence
St. Louis Public Broadcasting
Women in Film Foundation Film Finishing Fund
Tribeca Film Institute
UNC Chapel Hill

Spies of Mississippi is a co-production of Trilogy Films,LOOKS Filmproduktionen GmbH,
NDR in collaboration with Arte, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, KCTS 9,
and the Independent Television Service (ITVS),
with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Spies of Mississippi is produced by Trilogy Films,
who is solely responsible for its content.

© 2013 Trilogy Films. All rights reserved.

Does the story of the Sovereignty Commission surprise you? Did you have any experiences with the Civil Rights Movement, or another social movement, where you felt your privacy or safety threatened?
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Does the story of the Sovereignty Commission surprise you? Did you have any experiences with the Civil Rights Movement, or another social movement, where you felt your privacy or safety threatened?