5. Mississippi Sovereignty Commission: Surveillance, Corruption and Violence

5. Mississippi Sovereignty Commission: Surveillance, Corruption and Violence


Through the play Beautiful Agitators and accompanying curriculum, students will eplore the life of Vera Mae Pigee and the power and influence of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission.

Beautiful Agitators Lesson Plan: Scene Five

Standards: Local civil rights history, power relations & social justice, use of the Communist threat to subvert other political movements.

Content Strand 4:

A. Identify and explain the significance of the major actors, groups and events of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century in Mississippi (i.e., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, James Meredith, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, March on Washington, Voting Rights Act of 1965, etc.)

B. Understand and describe the historical circumstances and conditions that necessitated the development of civil rights and human rights protections and/or activism for various minority groups in Mississippi.

Tactics: Knowing rights, reframing power dynamics by using intentional terms and language (for example, Mrs., negro, colored, black), non-violent response to arrest

Counter-tactics include: intimidation & violence, terror, murder, threats of violence, perversion of the legal system/arrest to intimidate, threats of loss of employment

Time Period: December 1961

Leaders: Vera Pigee, Ben Collins: Clarksdale Chief of Police


LESSON: Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: Surveillance, Corruption and Violence

Background: The scene in which Vera Mae Pigee was arrested in her home by Clarksdale Chief of Police Ben Collins was based on both Vera Mae Pigee’s account in her autobiography Struggle of Struggles as well as reports from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC).

Students will utilize primary and secondary sources to gain a foundational understanding of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.


Students will review documents accessed through the archive/repository for MSSC reports and documents as well as other primary sources to critically evaluate the role of the MSSC.

  1. Students will gain awareness of the formation and founding of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC).
  2. Students will analyze primary source materials to investigate the ways in which the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission violated the rights of Black citizens in their attempts to gather and collect information regarding participation in civil rights activism.
  3. Students will compile the ways in which the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission collected personal information regarding members of the civil rights movement with intent to disrupt the work of the civil rights movement.
  4. Students will outline the means by which the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission worked to collude with and to corrupt local law enforcement to threaten, coerce and endanger civil rights activists and their associates

Students will be able to answer the following questions:

  1. How did the MSSC gather information about civil rights movement leaders and their activities?
  2. How did the MSSC and their collaborators utilize counter-tactics as a means to intimidate and threaten their targets?
  3. How did law enforcement fail to investigate and charge perpetrators of violent acts against Black citizens?

ACTIVITY: Knowing Your Rights in Interactions with Law Enforcement: Student Led Community Panel Discussion

There is a complicated history of law enforcement in the United States which is highlighted in Beautiful Agitators by the use of surveillance, intimidation and threats during the Jim Crow South. The KKK and White Citizens’ Council and the surveillance and counter-tactics employed through the work of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission provides a particularly complex example of a violation of rights.

  1. How do you reconcile the legalized racial segregation of the past?
  2. How does trust erode if there is no accountability?
  3. How do you rebuild an institution that has been tainted by corruption?
  4. How do you exercise your civil rights?

Students will devise a plan to create a panel discussion to address the historic issues of policing in the Black community in the United States past and present.  Students will develop questions as a group regarding: knowing your rights, racial profiling, use of police intimidation, qualified immunity, distrust, efforts for reform, police perspectives, etc.  Students will open the panel to community members such as historians, policy makers, police reform organizations, police public relations officers, etc. Students will find a location to host this event or plan for a virtual panel discussion.  Students will create promotional materials to inform the public of the event. 










Beautiful Agitators Script: Scene Five


December 1961

 Chief of Police Ben Collins enters the shop abruptly and uninvited. He sits down in one of the chairs and starts reading the newspaper. Collins does not bother to acknowledge Vera in her own shop and clears throat/stomps his feet.

VERA: Why are you in my shop? You here to try and get me to close down like you tried to get my husband fired?

COLLINS: You done?

Moment of awkward silence. Collins and Vera stare at each other. Collins stands up from the chair.

COLLINS: Who are you?

VERA: You know exactly who I am Ben.

COLLINS: Don’t call me Ben. I am the Chief of Police, city of Clarksdale.

VERA: And, I am Mrs. Vera Pigee and you are on my property.

COLLINS: You mean Vera Pigee don’t you?

VERA: I am Mrs. Vera Pigee, a wife, a mother, business and professional woman. Wherever I go, even in front of a police chief, my name is still Mrs. Vera Pigee.

COLLINS: Cut the crap, Vera.

(Collins pulls out a notepad and starts writing in it)

COLLINS: What’s your REAL position with the NAACP?

VERA: Why?

COLLINS: I have a list of names of people who live in Clarksdale that are suspected of being engaged in Un-American activities. And by the looks of it, you’re the only female on this list.

COLLINS: What about J.D. Rayford? You know him?

VERA: I’ve been knowing Reverend Rayford since I was a little girl. He’s one of my recruits.

COLLINS: Recruits? Civils Rights bull.

VERA: Mr. Collins, where did you even get this so-called “list” from? And what in the world are Un-American activities?

COLLINS: Washington. I’m here to investigate disloyalty to this country. Your little activities that have been going on here seem to match the description.

VERA: Investigate? Is that what you call it? You keep one of your policemen watching my house and beauty salon almost around the clock.

(Ben Collins clearly ignores Vera’s statement.)

COLLINS: Do you have any connections with the Communist Party through the NAACP? What was your role in the downtown boycott?

(Vera clearly agitated)

VERA: Do you want to know what I do Mr. Collins Collins? I am the secretary of the Coahoma County Branch of the NAACP, an Executive board member, a membership chairperson, a youth advisor for the Coahoma County Youth Council, a state conference board member, a state youth advisor, a regional youth advisor, and a voice for my people when YOU say they cannot have one. If that is a crime, then go ahead and arrest me.

COLLINS: You better watch what you wish for.

COLLINS:(Collins starts to write in his notepad again.) What kind of meetings do y’all have? What goes on? What do y’all talk about?

VERA: (sarcastically): They’re open to the public. You’re more than welcome to join. Would you like to come to our next one?

COLLINS: I didn’t come here to attend meetings and answer questions. Where can I find the other people on this list?

COLLINS: Who owns this beauty salon?

VERA: Be more specific. Are you talking about the building or the appliances?


VERA: Mr. Fulton Ford owns the building. I own the appliances.

COLLINS: Mr. Fulton Ford owns the house?

VERA: Yes, I told you Mr. Fulton Ford owns the house.

COLLINS: Who are your customers?

(Vera has reached her breaking point, she stands up from the chair and gets right in Collins’ face.)

VERA: Why, I am not going to tell you who my customers are. You already know.  Chief, Who are your customers?

COLLINS: You are talking to the Chief of Police, Vera, and you must answer my questions.

VERA: You are talking to a married woman. My name is Mrs. Vera Pigee. I pay city, county, and state taxes to operate a legitimate business. Now, I am asking you to leave. If I ever need your service I will call you.

COLLINS: You’re making a mistake. Let’s go. You are under arrest.

VERA: What for?

COLLINS: Conspiring to withhold trade from the downtown area.

VERA: Who signed the authorization?

COLLINS: The county prosecuting attorney, Babe Pearson.

VERA: May I see it?

COLLINS: Give me your hands. I have some nice bracelets for ya.

VERA: I am a political prisoner.

(Vera turns to move away, but Collins handcuffs Vera’s right arm)

VERA: You’re treading on the wrong side of history, Mr. Collins.

(Collins begins to lead Vera out of the door as Vera recites Psalm 34:16/34:17)

VERA: The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.


BLACK OUT End of Scene


Beautiful Agitators

 written by Aallyah Wright, Charles Coleman, Jessica James, Nick Houston and Jennifer Welch

commissioned and produced by StoryWorks, Jennifer Welch, artistic director



Lesson Five Video: Mississippi Sovereignty Commission: Surveillance, Corruption and Violence

Lesson Five Video: Mississippi Sovereignty Commission: Surveillance, Corruption and Violence C