Dec. 15 ‘Coffee and Conversation’ Series Screens ‘Spies of Mississippi’

News Release Date: 
December 3, 2013

For Immediate Release

Dec. 15 ‘Coffee and Conversation’ Series Screens ‘Spies of Mississippi’

 LINCOLN, Neb. (Dec. 3, 2013) -- NET’s next “Coffee and Conversation in the Community” film and discussion series begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, with a screening of “Spies of Mississippi,” at Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center at 313 N. 13th St. on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

“Coffee and Conversation” is free and open to the public. A moderated discussion of the film follows the screening. The films are shown in partnership with ITVS Community Cinema, Lincoln community radio station KZUM (89.3 FM), the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and the Malone Community Center.

“Spies of Mississippi” is a film by producer/director Dawn Porter based on a book of the same name by Rick Bowers.

In spring 1964, tensions were high in Mississippi. The civil rights community was gearing up for a major operation nicknamed Mississippi Freedom Summer. Hundreds -- if not thousands -- of mostly white student activists from the North were preparing to link up with dozens of mostly black freedom workers in the Magnolia State to accomplish what the Mississippi power structure feared most: registering black people to vote.

The state’s entrenched white power structure had a different name for Freedom Summer -- they called it an “invasion” and they fought back. For the segregationists Freedom Summer was a declaration of war on the Mississippi way of life. The state fortified its Highway Patrol and 82 county sheriff offices with hundreds of newly sworn-in deputies, stockpiled tear gas and riot gear in larger cities and prepared prison wardens and county jailers to expect an influx of summer guests.

But the most powerful men in the state had another even more powerful weapon in their arsenal  -- a secret so well kept, only a few insiders were privy:  The state of Mississippi was in the spy business. A no-nonsense group called the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission created a secret, state-funded spy agency answering directly to the governor. The commission infiltrated the civil rights coalition, eavesdropping on its most private meetings, pilfering its most sensitive documents. The commission’s most potent weapon was a cadre of black operatives who infiltrated the civil rights movement, rooting out its future plans, identifying its leaders and tripping up its foot soldiers. Along with a cadre of confederates, the black operatives won the trust of civil rights crusaders to gain intelligence for the segregationist state. Neighbors spied on each other, teachers spied on students, ministers spied on parishioners, and spies spied on spies.

Bowers’ book, and the film, rely on primary source materials, survivor interviews, oral histories and access to once-secret files.

Following the film a panel composed of the Rev. Dr. Karla Cooper, chaplain and coordinator of service programs at Doane College; Wilma Jackson, director of multicultural support services at Doane College; and Thomas Christie, multicultural/community administrator for Lincoln Public Schools, will join the audience for a discussion. Additional panelists may be added.

ITVS Community Cinema is a public education and civic engagement initiative featuring screenings of films from PBS’s “Independent Lens” in 100 cities and online. Between September and June, Community Cinema brings together leading organizations, community members and public television stations to learn, discuss and get involved in today’s critical social issues.

“Our vision for the ‘Coffee and Conversation’ series is to engage a network of citizens and organizations to act locally and reach out globally,” said Marthaellen Florence, NET Community Engagement and Educational Outreach director.

For more information on the series and NET Community Engagement and Educational Outreach, check the NET website at



CONTACT: NET Community Outreach director Marthaellen Florence, 402-470-6603 or
RELEASE WRITTEN BY: Kim Hachiya, 402-470-6694, or

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