Spies of Mississippi

A secret spy agency formed to preserve segregation investigated citizens and organizations in attempts to derail the civil rights movement.

Spies of mississippi 01
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 10, 2014
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call

Dawn Porter

Dawn Porter is an award-winning filmmaker whose 2013 documentary Gideon’s Army won the Sundance Film Festival Editing Award, the Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy. The film broadcast on HBO in July 2013 and has been used to engage local communities about indigent defense, the U.S. justice system, and socioeconomic influences on crime. Porter’s other films include Spies of Mississippi (2014, Independent Lens/PBS) and Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper, a documentary film chronicling President Obama’s program to help young men and boys of color succeed. Dawn interviewed President Obama for the film, which aired nationally on The Discovery Channel and The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in 2015. Porter is a Keppler Speaker, has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and is a returning guest on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show. Prior to her work as a filmmaker, Dawn was director of standards and practices at ABC News and vice president of standard and practices at A&E Television Networks. She graduated from Swarthmore College and Georgetown Law Center and practiced law at the firm of Baker & Hostetler for five years.

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Risa Morimoto

Risa Morimoto produced the feature film The LaMastas in 1998. Since then, she has produced, written, and directed for film and television. Morimoto produced the award-winning program Cinema AZN, a half-hour show on Asian film for AZN Television Network. President of Edgewood Pictures, Inc., a motion picture production company, Morimoto graduated with a master’s degree in film and education from New York University in 1999, where she served as associate director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute. From 2002 to 2006, she served as executive director of Asian CineVision, a nonprofit media arts organization. A second-generation Japanese American, Morimoto studied at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

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Summer Damon

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The Film

Spies of Mississippi tells the story of a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation during the 1950s and ‘60s. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission evolved from a predominantly public relations agency to a full-fledged spy operation, spying on over 87,000 Americans over the course of a decade. The Commission employed a network of investigators and informants, including African Americans to help infiltrate some of the largest Black organizations — NAACP, CORE, and SNCC. They were granted broad powers to investigate private citizens and organizations, keep secret files, make arrests and compel testimony.

The film reveals the full scope and impact of the Commission, including its links to private White supremacist organizations, its ties to investigative agencies in other states, and even a program to bankroll the opposition to civil rights legislation in Washington D.C. Spies of Mississippi tracks the Commission’s hidden role in many of the most important chapters of the civil rights movement, including the integration of the University of Mississippi, the trial of Medgar Evers, and the KKK murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.