JUSTICE...40 YEARS LATE IS BETTER THAN NEVER AT ALL
Being a native of Mississippi, my eyes and ears perked up at the news Thursday that a reputed Ku Klux Klansman, now 79 years of age, has been indicted for the 1964 beating and murder of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County. Edgar Ray Killen was arraigned Friday in Neshoba County Circuit Court for the deaths of Meridian resident James Chaney and New Yorkers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were working to register black voters in that area when they disappeared on June 21, 1964. Their bodies were found 44 days later buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam. The murders were the basis for the 1988 motion picture "Mississippi Burning", starring Gene Hackman and William Dafoe.
Killen was identified in a 1967 federal conspiracy trial has having coordinated the KKK's actions that evening. The state had handed the case over to the feds, and their track record leaves something to be desired: Of the 19 people against whom charges were originally brought in the case for conspiracy, there were seven convictions, eight acquittals, and three hung juries, including that of Killen.
When speaking with Mississippi Department of Archives and History representatives for an interview not to be published before his death, former KKK Imperial Wizard Samuel Bowers was apparantly referring to Killen when he said:
"I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man."
Bowers, by the way, is not dead, but serving time for ordering the firebombing murder of Forrest County grocer and civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer at his home near Hattiesburg in 1966.
Here is a timeline of the case, thanks to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Also, the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi's largest newspaper, did a special series of stories that highlight 44 Days That Changed Mississippi . It's worth a good read, especially Part One, which focuses on Killen, known as "Preacher" because he was a Baptist minister. As a matter of fact, he got off in the conspiracy trial because one juror held out saying she did not want to convict a preacher.
Well, justice may be served...four decades late, but it's a helluva lot better than never at all.