by James Dickerson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1998
An incredible, infuriating exposÆ’ of the abusive power of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, whose recently unsealed files reopened old wounds from the 1960s. Dirty isn't nearly harsh enough to describe the 20-year reign of intimidation and deceit perpetrated by the secret state agency founded to defy the Supreme Court's order for school desegregation. Dickerson, a veteran journalist and author of Goin' Back to Memphis (which studied the influence of organized crime and politics on Memphis music), traces the commission's genesis in 1955, its escalating use of unlawful tactics (including spying, dirty tricks, media manipulation, and forced conscription of political enemies) in the '60s, its eventual demise in the '70s, and the growing movement for full disclosure that resulted earlier this year in the opening of nearly 87,000 personal files. It's a bizarre story, involving organized crime, presidential and congressional politics, assassination conspiracies, and government corruption of sickening proportions. Dickerson's wide-ranging investigation, though focused mainly on the commission, also contends that the group shared tactics and information with the FBI and the US army, both of which compiled secret files on millions of Americans (black and white) involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements. Dickerson suggests the commission was involved in the deaths of civil rights workers Schwerner, Goodman, and Cheney, and the assassination of Martin Luther King. He also insinuates (though later backtracks) that the commission, through ties with a southern Mafia kingpin, may have been involved in a conspiracy to kill John Kennedy. Such serious accusations demand serious documentation--the lack of which is the glaring flaw of Dickerson's expansive, immensely provocative work. Skimpy endnotes and a reliance on unnamed sources for the most dramatic assertions (that Memphis mobsters wanted King dead because his antiwar stance threatened their profits from dirty defense contracts, for example) are disappointing. Still, a blockbuster indictment not only of southern intransigence and racism, but of the corrupt way power works in America.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998
Page Count: 232
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998
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