The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was created in March 1956 by an act of the Mississippi Legislature. It came in the wake of the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka public school desegregation ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court. The court ruled that laws enforcing segregated schools were unconstitutional and called for desegregation of schools “with all deliberate speed.”
Governors and Senators
L. Q. C. Lamar is perhaps Mississippi’s most noted nineteenth century statesman. He was the first person, and one of only two in American history (the other was South Carolina’s James Byrnes in the twentieth century), to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U. S. Senate, as a member of the President’s Cabinet, and as a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. Despite these accomplishments, Lamar's legacy is tainted today by his active role in the reestablishment of White supremacy in the post-Reconstruction South.
Haley Barbour was elected governor on November 4, 2003, in the largest voter turnout in Mississippi history, up to that time. He made history again in 2007 when he became only the second governor since Reconstruction to be re-elected to a second consecutive term – a 1987 state constitutional amendment allowed a governor to serve two consecutive terms. The first was Kirk Fordice, who was elected in 1991 and in 1995.
Following eight years in the Mississippi Senate, from 1988 to 1996, and a four-year term as lieutenant governor, Ronnie Musgrove was elected governor under circumstances unique in Mississippi history. Because neither Musgrove nor any other gubernatorial candidate received a majority of the votes cast in the November 1999 general election, the Mississippi Legislature was required by the state’s 1890 Constitution to elect the governor. In a special vote on January 4, 2000, the Mississippi Legislature elected Musgrove as the state’s sixty-second governor.
In his first campaign for any public office in 1991, Kirk Fordice was elected Mississippi’s first Republican governor in 118 years. In his successful campaign for re-election in 1995, he became the first Mississippi governor to succeed himself in more than a century.
Although Ray Mabus was the youngest governor in America at the time of his inauguration on January 12, 1988, he had accumulated an impressive record of public service and academic achievements.
While serving as attorney general of the state of Mississippi in the early 1980s, Bill Allain filed a suit asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to separate the functions of the executive and legislative branches of state government, especially in the budgetary process. Prior to that suit, members of the Mississippi Legislature served on boards, commissions, and agencies in the executive branch. Attorney General Allain asserted that Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution required a separation of powers and that legislative officials could not serve in the executive branch.
For all of William Winter’s many contributions to the state of Mississippi, he will best be remembered for the Education Reform Act of 1982. After the legislature failed to enact his educational reforms during the regular session in 1982, Governor Winter called a special session. Under the authority given him by the state’s 1890 Constitution, Governor Winter restricted the legislation that could be introduced in that special session to education bills.
Cliff Finch campaigned for governor in 1975 on the promise of more and better-paying jobs for Mississippi’s working men and women. To dramatize his concern for the hardships of Mississippi’s working people, Finch spent one day a week during the late stages of his campaign sacking groceries at supermarkets, driving bulldozers, or working at other jobs that were associated with the ordinary working man and woman. He took a sack lunch with him on those special work days. His campaign tactics were very popular and he was elected governor in his first try for the office.
In the early 1970s after the Civil Rights Movement had run its course and had brought enormous changes to the South, a group of young and progressive southern governors attracted national attention. Among them were Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, Reuben Askew of Florida, Jimmy Carter of Georgia, and William Waller of Mississippi. Governor Waller was elected at a crucial time in the state’s history and his constructive leadership helped chart a new direction for Mississippi.