The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
Alphabetical List of All Collections | Collections Listed By Subject
Collection Title: Johnston (Erle) Oral History Appendix
Collection Number: M321
Volume: 2 items
Erle E. Johnston, Jr.
Erle E. Johnston, Jr., was born on October 10, 1917, to Erle E. Johnston and Grace Buchanan Johnston. He graduated in 1935 from Grenada High School in Mississippi and went on to a long career in journalism, political and public service, and public relations. From 1942 to 1979, Johnston owned and operated the award winning Scott County Times newspaper. His extensive public relations career included work on the campaigns of such notable Mississippians as: Senators James O. Eastland and John Stennis and Governors Mike Sennett Conner, Fielding Wright, Ross Barnett, Paul B. Johnson, Jr., John Bell Williams, and William Waller.
Johnston served on the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission from 1960 to 1968, the last five years as its Executive Director. From 1981 to 1985, he presided as the Mayor of Forest, Mississippi. Under his leadership the city's economy grew, and thousands of jobs were created when Hughes Aircraft and Sara Lee Bakeries moved to the city.
Johnston has authored a number of books dealing with Mississippi politics, including I Rolled with Ross: A Political Portrait (1980), Mississippi's Defiant Years: 1953-1973 (1990), and Politics: Mississippi Style, (1993).
Johnston died on September 27, 1995. He was survived by three children and five grandchildren.
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission
The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission was created by legislative act in March of 1956, two years after the United States Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case. The mission of the commission was to "protect the sovereignty of the State of Mississippi and her sister states from federal interference." The commission engaged in activities designed to preserve Mississippi's segregated society. To this end, the commission and its staff compiled information on perceived racial activists within and outside the state. Using their own investigators, as well as a diverse network of spies, local and state law enforcement agencies, and private groups such as the Citizen's Councils, the commission harassed those they identified as agitators or "subversives." The commission also operated as a public relations agency, promoting Mississippi and her "way of life" in media markets across the country. The commission remained active throughout the 1960's and early 1970's. The commission officially closed its doors in 1977, four years after the state legislature cut its funding.
This collection consists of two items. One item is a copy of the minutes of the August 8, 1966, meeting of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. The other item is an eighteen page document entitled, "Report on Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (1964-1967)." Both items were part of the Erle Johnston, Jr., Oral History, Volume 276, Part I, that were previously restricted pending the opening of the official State Sovereignty Commission Records in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which occurred on March 17, 1998.
The minutes include a six-point policy statement proposed by Director Johnston and approved by the Commission, the 1966-68 budget, the report of a discussion concerning the possible hiring of a former FBI agent, John Sullivan of Vicksburg, and a proposal suggesting that the Attorney General's office be requested to stop any further marches in Mississippi by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Leadership Conference.
The second item, the "Report on the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (1964-1967)", is organized in sections titled: Recommendations; The Staff; Appropriations; Investigations; Research; 1964; 1965; 1966; 1967; Public Relations; and Advisory. The report, which provides a thumbnail sketch of the activities of the commission during the period, is an excellent starting point for the researcher interested in the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Records.
Erle Johnson Oral History Interview, call number F341.5 .M57, vol. 276, pt. 2.
Copies of books by Erle Johnston are available in the Cook and McCain Libraries:
I Rolled with Ross: A Political Portrait (Baton Rouge: Moran, 1980), call number F345 .J64 1980 (Cook, McCain).
Mississippi's Defiant Years, 1953-1973: An Interpretive Documentary with Personal Experiences (Forest, Miss.: Lake Harbor Publishers, 1990), call number E185.93.M6 J58 1990 (Cook, McCain).
Politics: Mississippi Style (Forest, Miss.: Lake Harbor Publishers, 1993), call number F341 .J59x 1993 (Cook, McCain).