Spies of Mississippi is one of the most important pieces that PBS will release this year. The documentary, which is based on author Rick Bowers’ 2010 book by the same name, first aired on PBS in 2013. It was just recently released on DVD last month. The primary aspect of this story that makes it so important is that it lifts the veil on a piece of civil rights (and American) history that few people know about. The second factor, in direct connection, is the story’s organization. The real story doesn’t start until late in the near hour-long feature. However, the setup toward that story is what makes it so important. And last but definitely not least of the notable aspects of this documentary is the inclusion of first person interviews, vintage footage and newspaper articles to help illustrate the story and advance it. All three aspects together make Spies of Mississippi an excellent starting point for what could lead to a much deeper investigation and documentary from PBS.
The primary aspect of Spies of Mississippi that makes it so important is that it lifts the veil on a piece of civil rights (and American) history that few people know about. People know about cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and the famous Greensboro sit-in among many others. But how many people can honestly say that they knew about the covert operations of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission? This “secret society” of sorts had one and only one goal. That goal was to prevent any possibility of blacks and whites from becoming integrated in America. This included keeping blacks from being able to even vote. Audiences that might be learning this story for the first time (much like this critic) will be amazed at the levels to which the MSSC would go to in order to achieve its goals. As they will learn, the MSSC even stooped to killing two white men that were helping members of the black community in their fight for equality. It even allegedly had African-Americans infiltrate groups such as the NAACP to keep track of what was going on so as to achieve its goals. These are just some of the revelations that will shock viewers seeing this story for the first time. One could almost compare the actions of the MSSC to the likes of what happened under McCarthy and the Red Scare. And in a time when the country is getting ready to go through state and local elections again, this documentary becomes all the more important.
The story contained in this DVD is the key aspect of the program’s success. By direct connection, the organization of the presentation adds to the program’s success. There are those that have noted just how short the “most important” part of the story received so little time. The part of the story in question was the portion outlining how the MSSC went to such great lengths to keep African-Americans from being able to vote. What said individuals perhaps don’t quite understand is that the first half of the presentation was a necessary evil. It was necessary in that it helped to set up the story in question. That being the case, both halves of the presentation become one whole that is easy to follow. In turn, the whole becomes a piece that any history buff, poly-sci buff or otherwise will appreciate.
The organization of Spies of Mississippi and its overall story work in conjunction to make this presentation an excellent starting point for what could be an even deeper examination of part of America’s hidden past. Both aspects show why this is one of PBS’ most important home releases of 2014. As impressive as they are, there is still one more piece of the whole to consider in this documentary. That final piece is the material that makes up the program. From one-on-one interviews with those closest to the MSSC to vintage footage and newspaper articles, Director Dawn Porter and her staff have included a number of items that help illustrate the story. Those items show just how important the scandal surrounding the MSSC was then and even how it relates to certain voting issues going on in America today. Viewers will be interested to hear from the supposed “Agent X” that was sent to infiltrate the civil rights movement among others. There is much more that audiences will take away from this presentation in watching it for themselves. And they can do so when they order the DVD direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=29151026&cp=&kw=mississippi+spies&origkw=Mississippi+Spies&sr=1. More information on this and other programs from PBS is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.