Mississippi style by Erle Johnson
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was enacted by an act of the Mississippi legislation in 1956.Its objectives was to protect the sovereignty of the state, and her sister state.The commission is run by four ex-official; the governor (who was the chairman of the commission), the president of the state (vice-chairman of the commission), the attorney general, and the speaker of the house.
Other members of the commission includes: two members from the senate, appointed by the president and the senate; and three members from the house representatives who are appointed by the speaker.
Various leaders in Mississippi had either credited or criticized the performance of the Commission. Coleman acknowledges the work that was being done by the Commission and asserted that the Commission was useful in abolishing the racial conflict and violence. Ross Barnett on the other hand complained about the method used by the Commission, he directed the Commission to create the speaker’s bureau to present the Mississippi views. The investigation team were also expanded which were in charge of investigated individuals and the organization that were challenging the racial status quo.
Another key leader who contributed towards creating and shaping the new image of the Commission was Erle Johnston. Erle took measures to clean up the Commission, removing all discrimination reports especially those which meant to barred African and Americans from voting. He was born in 1917, in Garyville, Louisiana. Erle attended Grenada High School, where he played several roles ranging from participated on the baseball team, being a member of the band, and a newspaper writer. However, Erle did not go further with education due to financial problems, and hence after completion of High School in 1935, he started working part-time with Daily News, the Jackson-Leader, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal up to 1937 when he secured a full time job with the Clarion-ledger.
Johnson Erle thereafter managed to serve in several capacities ranging from a mere newspaper reporter and the state editors to being the State Director of the Office of War Information in 1943. He was also called to serve in the U.S Army in 1945. His reputation as a respected newspaper writer and editors as well as a political reporter enabled Erle emerged into public arena and participated in the Mississippi political campaigns.
In 1960, Erle was appointed as Director of Public Relations by Barnett and began to work with the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission where he develops a public program that would counter criticism from the civil rights activist. He led the Commission in conducting investigation on those who challenged racial segregation, and directing on how to avoid civil rights legislation. Johnson also redefined the Commission name into Mississippi Information Agency in order regain its recognition. In 1966, a meeting was called to approve a new policy redefining the Commission as the watch dog in an effort to combat the threat of integration. Erle continued to hold the Executive Director of the Sovereignty Commission until his resignation in 1968.
After his resignation John became Mayor of Forest from 1982-1985 where he alert on the advancement and development of the city’s industry. The success of the development of the city’s industrial led to the creation of many jobs opportunities. He later take over to a new career as an author of Mississippi politics where he before his death he wrote three books. He continued holding different position and engaging in various activities such as civic, religious, and community’s events.
John was selected as Co-Chairman of Tougaloo College’s Committee on the prevention of the Civil Rights Activities in 1992. He later received recognition into the Mississippi Press Association Hall of Fame before his death which occurred as a result of heart attack in 1995. He left three children.
Johnson Erle born in 1917 was one of the leaders whose contribution led to a great success of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. His reputation well known as the respected journalist and political reporters gave him an edge into political arena. He served several position during his life and always been struggling for the abolition of the racial segregation.
1. Erle Johnston memo, June 24, 1965, SRC ID # 9-31-4-3-1-1-1.
2. General Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1956, Chapter 365, 520-524.
3. Mississippi’s Defiant Years, 1953-1973: An Interpretation Documentary with Personal Experiences (Forest, Miss: Lake Harbor Publishers, 1994).
4. Politics: Mississippi Style (Forest Miss: Lake Harbor Publishers, 1993)
5. Rolled with Rose: A Political Portrait (Baton Rouge: Moran, 1980).