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Mississippi Burning: It is Never too Late


John Simkin
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It is still possible to bring people to court for murders committed in the 1960s. Here is an article that appeared in the Guardian at the weekend.

Forty years after three civil rights workers were killed on a dirt road in Mississippi on a night that came to symbolise the racial hate of the American south, an elderly leader of the Ku Klux Klan appeared in court yesterday to be formally charged with their murder.

In proceedings interrupted by a bomb threat, Edgar Ray Killen, appeared handcuffed and in an orange prison jump suit to plead not guilty to three counts of murder.

Now 79, Killen was a preacher and a local Klan leader in Neshoba County, Mississippi when the killings took place in 1964.

The FBI identified him as the ringleader of the gang that ran the three civil rights workers off of a lonely road, killed them, and hid their corpses in an earthen dam.

For civil rights activists in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the case against Killen was a bitter-sweet moment.

"If you believe in God you always know you have to wait," said Jewel McDonald, who was a teenager that summer, and whose mother and brother were beaten outside their black church only days before the murders.

She lamented the 39-year delay in prosecuting the killers of the three civil rights workers, but added she was happy that justice was finally being done.

The immediate target of the mob's murderous rampage on that night in 1964 was Michael Schwerner, 24, a white New Yorker and an experienced organiser, who was investigating the burning of the black church and the attack on Ms McDonald's mother.

James Chaney, 21, an African-American from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman, 20, a New Yorker who had arrived in Neshoba County barely a day before, also died. Chaney was beaten to death; the two white men were each killed with a single shot to the chest.

The murders, which were dramatised in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, loomed over an era of lynch mobs, cross burnings and church bombings.

They sealed the state's reputation as a haven for racists - as did the authority's refusal to bring criminal charges for four decades. But the killings also prompted an outpouring of support for the civil rights movement.

After intervention from the federal government, Mr Killen and 18 others were put on trial for civil rights violations in 1967.

Seven men, including the county's deputy sheriff, Cecil Price, received jail terms, but Mr Killen went free after a lone member of the jury admitted she could not stomach the idea of sending a preacher to prison.

And a small town struggled with the legacy of those murders. For the town's African-American residents, that meant living in a state of constant fear.

"It was a scary time growing up down here, not knowing if you were looking at someone who did it, and you didn't know," Ms McDonald said. "The fear was always there. When I went away, I tried to block it, but every time I talk about it, I go into tears because I see my mum and brother beaten, and all that stuff comes back. I think a lot of people are still afraid because people weren't talking."

A year ago, however, a newly elected state attorney general, Jim Hood, reopened the long, cold investigation into the killings and decided there was enough evidence to go ahead with charges.

Yesterday, vindicating long years of campaigning by a multiracial coalition known as the Philadelphia Committee, Mr Killen was at last charged with murder. Seven other men implicated in the murders are still alive, and local authorities said further charges were expected.

For Fenten DeWeese, a local lawyer and a member of the Philadelphia Committee who was in court yesterday, news of Mr Killen's arrest on Thursday arrived as a revelation.

"It was like the hair stood up on the back of my neck," he said. "I was 15 years old when it happened, and as a lifelong resident it's been a very dominating historical fact. This was domestic terrorism what happened here, and this community has been struggling with this ever since."

In the view or Mr DeWeese and Ms McDonald, the state's effort to bring Mr Killen to justice is evidence of a new Mississippi that has emerged from the painful detritus of the old racist order. Not everyone in Neshoba County agrees - or even accepts the idea of change.

"After 40 years to come back and do something like this is ridiculous ... like a nightmare," Billy Wayne Posey, one of the men convicted at the civil rights trial in 1967, told the Associated Press.

But others believe putting Mr Killen on trial is essential to the town's healing and for laying a shameful past to rest.

"The murder is older than me," said Jennifer Hathorne, who helps organise the annual memorial to the three murdered civil rights activists at the Mount Zionist United Methodist church, the successor to the church destroyed by racists in 1964.

"People have passed on now, but they would be proud to see that this is happening after all these years.

"The community felt really bad about what happened because they were coming here to help us, not just us, but the whole state of Mississippi."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/st...1385718,00.html

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It is still possible to bring people to court for murders committed in the 1960s. Here is an article that appeared in the Guardian at the weekend.

Forty years after three civil rights workers were killed on a dirt road in Mississippi on a night that came to symbolise the racial hate of the American south, an elderly leader of the Ku Klux Klan appeared in court yesterday to be formally charged with their murder.

In proceedings interrupted by a bomb threat, Edgar Ray Killen, appeared handcuffed and in an orange prison jump suit to plead not guilty to three counts of murder.

Now 79, Killen was a preacher and a local Klan leader in Neshoba County, Mississippi when the killings took place in 1964.

The FBI identified him as the ringleader of the gang that ran the three civil rights workers off of a lonely road, killed them, and hid their corpses in an earthen dam.

For civil rights activists in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the case against Killen was a bitter-sweet moment.

"If you believe in God you always know you have to wait," said Jewel McDonald, who was a teenager that summer, and whose mother and brother were beaten outside their black church only days before the murders.

She lamented the 39-year delay in prosecuting the killers of the three civil rights workers, but added she was happy that justice was finally being done.

The immediate target of the mob's murderous rampage on that night in 1964 was Michael Schwerner, 24, a white New Yorker and an experienced organiser, who was investigating the burning of the black church and the attack on Ms McDonald's mother.

James Chaney, 21, an African-American from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman, 20, a New Yorker who had arrived in Neshoba County barely a day before, also died. Chaney was beaten to death; the two white men were each killed with a single shot to the chest.

The murders, which were dramatised in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, loomed over an era of lynch mobs, cross burnings and church bombings.

They sealed the state's reputation as a haven for racists - as did the authority's refusal to bring criminal charges for four decades. But the killings also prompted an outpouring of support for the civil rights movement.

After intervention from the federal government, Mr Killen and 18 others were put on trial for civil rights violations in 1967.

Seven men, including the county's deputy sheriff, Cecil Price, received jail terms, but Mr Killen went free after a lone member of the jury admitted she could not stomach the idea of sending a preacher to prison.

And a small town struggled with the legacy of those murders. For the town's African-American residents, that meant living in a state of constant fear.

"It was a scary time growing up down here, not knowing if you were looking at someone who did it, and you didn't know," Ms McDonald said. "The fear was always there. When I went away, I tried to block it, but every time I talk about it, I go into tears because I see my mum and brother beaten, and all that stuff comes back. I think a lot of people are still afraid because people weren't talking."

A year ago, however, a newly elected state attorney general, Jim Hood, reopened the long, cold investigation into the killings and decided there was enough evidence to go ahead with charges.

Yesterday, vindicating long years of campaigning by a multiracial coalition known as the Philadelphia Committee, Mr Killen was at last charged with murder. Seven other men implicated in the murders are still alive, and local authorities said further charges were expected.

For Fenten DeWeese, a local lawyer and a member of the Philadelphia Committee who was in court yesterday, news of Mr Killen's arrest on Thursday arrived as a revelation.

"It was like the hair stood up on the back of my neck," he said. "I was 15 years old when it happened, and as a lifelong resident it's been a very dominating historical fact. This was domestic terrorism what happened here, and this community has been struggling with this ever since."

In the view or Mr DeWeese and Ms McDonald, the state's effort to bring Mr Killen to justice is evidence of a new Mississippi that has emerged from the painful detritus of the old racist order. Not everyone in Neshoba County agrees - or even accepts the idea of change.

"After 40 years to come back and do something like this is ridiculous ... like a nightmare," Billy Wayne Posey, one of the men convicted at the civil rights trial in 1967, told the Associated Press.

But others believe putting Mr Killen on trial is essential to the town's healing and for laying a shameful past to rest.

"The murder is older than me," said Jennifer Hathorne, who helps organise the annual memorial to the three murdered civil rights activists at the Mount Zionist United Methodist church, the successor to the church destroyed by racists in 1964.

"People have passed on now, but they would be proud to see that this is happening after all these years.

"The community felt really bad about what happened because they were coming here to help us, not just us, but the whole state of Mississippi."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/st...1385718,00.html

In 1960, my biology teacher at New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, N.Y.,

was Mrs. Schwerner. She was the one person who greatly influenced my life and continues to shape my thoughts to this present day. If there was anybody in this world who is responsible for guiding me and encouraging me to become what I am today, it was this wonderful woman. She would let four of us students come back to the lab after school and do further dissections on frogs and unborn piglets, not because we were required to, but because we asked permission to. I had only one other teacher in high school, Miss White, English Literature, whom I also greatly admired. But, Mrs. Schwerner was by far, the most advanced, the most progressive, and far superior to all the rest.

In June of 1964, while studying the New York Times reportage of the Warren Commission findings, I happened to turn the pages and came across the article regarding a Pelham Manor, N.Y. Civil Rights Activist found dead in shallow grave,

along with two others in Mississippi. It stated the names of Michael Schwerner,

Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, and the the name of the town from which the news was being wired, Meridian, Mississippi. I immediately got on the phone and called the Schwerner's, and wanted to express my condolences to my

beloved mentor, Mrs. Schwerner. But, because of her overwhelming grief, she was not able to come to the phone. Mr. Schwerner, in spite of his great loss, still took the time to ask how my family was doing, and to tell me that Mrs. Schwerner often asked of me, from our mutual acquaintances, and from my younger brother, who also attended New Rochelle High School.

Therein lies the rub, in that summer June - July of 1964, besides the skewed and

dubious findings presented by the Warren Commission's final report, there was also the egregious loss to my favorite instructor, Mrs. Schwerner. And, because of these acts of betrayal, I have never trusted the American government to be anything more than a tool to be wielded by the "so-called", blue-blooded, aristocratic, industrial-corporate, W.A.S.P.'s, who are the actual robber-barons

who've set the structure for their own realization of "Manifest Destiny", which is

still allive and well, but masquerading under the guise "global democracy".

It is truly a pity to witness how de-evolved the human race has managed to back-peddle itself since 1963. You would have thought we'd have learned something from all of the blood that's been shed, by now. By bringing this perpetrator to

task, forty years after the fact, seems nothing more than anticlimatic.

Sure, you can rebut that, at least they're going to be made to pay for the crime.

But, IMO this is justice applied a little too late, and for all we know, the people who

should have been able to witness "justice being done", may have passed on at this point in time. Maybe Michael's wife might appreciate it, but who needs a festering wound to be re-opened at this late date in their lives? Closure, you say? Surely, the citizens of the United States, if there are any who remember, or even care to remember, may feel the hand of justice has swung to their side, but that remains to be seen now, doesn't it?

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I noticed that this story was featured not on CNN or FOXNews in the US, but on France 2, from Paris, which we view through a cable affiliate. This is indeed a story worthy of attention.

Pamela

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