Honoring the life of Clyde Kennard

Honoring the life of Clyde Kennard

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Clyde Kennard was born in Hattiesburg in 1927, and like many people in the Deep South, he grew up on a farm.

His friend, Raylawni Branch, said he was a very hard worker.

"They had a chicken farm, what they call a breeder farm. He went from bitty to big chicken and laying eggs and things like that," Branch said.

In those days, the family farm paid the bills.

"I worked in a little café called Fats Kitchen. So he would come in a couple times a week to sell the restaurant owner eggs," Branch said.

At an early age, Clyde knew the importance of getting an education.

When he was just 12 years old, he moved to lived with his sister in Chicago.

"He had been sent off someplace else for school and had completed, I believe, like three years of college," Branch said.

Before college, he served seven years in the army and received an honorable discharge.

Kennard had to end college studies when his stepfather got sick and died.

He later moved back home to be with his mom.

"He wanted to come home and help his mother run the farm," Branch said.

Kennard still had that burning desire to complete his education, so he decided to apply at a nearby school.

"Clyde tried three times to come to USM," Branch said.

During that time, the school was known as Mississippi Southern College, but there was one problem. There were no black students there.

"He came out here alone because he believed in the goodness of man, and he did not think anybody would do anything to him," Branch said.

On his first try, he was denied because he did not have enough references from his home county.

The college was determined not to let Kennard get in, so much that as he walked back to his car, he was arrested.

"He was arrested once for having whiskey in his car," Brand said. "He did not drink, he did not smoke."

Weeks later, a judge found him guilty on the charges.

In 1960, it was Clyde's final attempt to get into college,

"On the third time, they had finally figured out a way to accuse him of stealing, or having someone steal for him feed for his chicken," Branch said.

A man named Johnny Lee Roberts admitted to stealing the feed, but he told police that Kennard made him do it.

Kennard was then sentenced to state prison.

"He received seven years of hard labor," Branch said.

He worked long hard days picking cotton in jail, until he got sick.

"Many things were done to try to get him out, Branch added.

He was finally released in 1963, but his condition was deteriorating.

Kennard later died.

"We know he was unjustly prosecuted, unjustly jailed," Branch said.

In the years following his death, many people fought to clear Kennard's name.

In 1991, secret documents revealed that he had been framed.

Johnny Roberts also revealed that Kennard had nothing to do with stealing the feed.

"Clyde was a true hero in my eyes," Branch added.

Because of his sacrifice, Raylawni Branch and Elaine Armstrong became the first African-Americans granted admission.

Although Kennard was never able to get into college, people of all races can now walk and learn freely at The University of Southern Mississippi.