Clyde Kennard: A Little-Known Civil Rights Pioneer Lesson Plan

Martha Hutson


Clyde Kennard, a young Korean war veteran born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, tried in 1955 to become the first African American to attend what is now The University of Southern Mississippi. Though overshadowed by more well-known figures from the mid-20th century civil rights movement, Kennard’s story is an integral part of the history of segregated Mississippi. It is the story of a seemingly ordinary person who courageously acted on his beliefs. Clyde Kennard deserves a permanent place in the annals of the civil rights struggle.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1 and 3


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12



Students will:

  • Examine how Clyde Kennard’s life was affected by the “institutions” of the state, civil rights groups, and others;
  • Determine if “justice delayed” is “ justice served;”
  • Recognize the value of student participation in a cause.


Ask students to mention the names of civil rights activists with whom they are familiar. Ask why some participants in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s are well-known while others, perhaps even some who lost their lives, have received very little recognition. Is it important to tell everyone’s story? Ask students to help ensure that the stories of the famous and not-so-famous are shared by learning about the life of Clyde Kennard.


  1. Ask students to read the Mississippi History Now article to learn about Clyde Kennard’s life.
  2. As students finish their readings, have them free-write their thoughts about the article in their notebooks.
  3. Divide the class into seven small groups with each group working to examine the role one of the following played in Clyde Kennard’s life:
    • University officials
    • Sovereignty Commission
    • Law enforcement
    • Courts
    • John Howard Griffin
    • Clarion-Ledger; ACLU
    • Barry Bradford and students
  4. Have each student draw a large “bio-web” (graphic organizer) with seven sections in their notebooks, each section named as one of the groups listed above. As each group reports, students can fill in their “bio-webs” with information.
  5. Write this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. on the board: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
  6. Ask students to reflect on the meaning of the quote. Encourage them to discuss whether or not justice was served in the case of Clyde Kennard. How are the people involved in the case, families and perpetrators, as well as society, affected by “delayed justice?”


Lead a class discussion in which students evaluate the role played by social studies students and college students in the efforts to clear Kennard’s name. Ask students to think of specific ways they can bring about “justice” in their environment.


  1. Participation in large-group discussion
  2. Participation in small group activity and presentation
  3. Completion of bio-web
  4. Free-writing exercises


  • Students may wish to research other “delayed justice” cases from the civil rights movement, such as the Byron de la Beckwith case.
  • Make a student encyclopedia of “little-known” civil rights figures.
  • How can the story of Clyde Kennard inform and instruct students of the 21st century?