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Thriller Thursday: Mississippi Burning

Mississippi Burning is an Academy Award nominated movie loosely based on the horrific events of the summer of 1974. The true story is even more heartbreaking.
In 1964, the state of Mississippi was at the heart of the Civil Rights debate. The Woolworth Sit-In had occurred the year before, and “Whites Only” signs were still in use. That summer, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were part of group of 1,000 northern college students that traveled to Mississippi to participate in Freedom Summer. They intended to help with voter registration and improve race relations in the state.
Mississippians were pissed about the invasion of smug college kids, and the situation got worse. The Klan was revived.
A reporter from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger had this to say about the attitude of Mississippi residents:

“Mississippians have preconceived notions about the invading students—smug, shrill know-it-all extroverts with a savior complex…problem brats defiant of parental restraint…sexually promiscuous, addicted to interracial love-making…brainwashed in Communist doctrine with no clear idea of Americansm…more hostile to the White South than to Red Russia.”

Chaney, 21, was a local black Mississipian well versed with the state’s racism. Goodman, 20, was college kid from New York while Schwerner, also from New York, was a veteran activist at 24. The three had been working in Neshoba county to register blacks to vote, opening “Freedom Schools,” and organizing black boycotts of white-owned businesses.
Schwerner, known as “Jew-boy” or “Goatee” among the Klansmen, had become a target since his efforts at organizing the boycotts and registering blacks to vote had been more successful than the Klans intimidation tactics.
Sam Bowers, Imperial Wizard of the White Knights, had already launched Plan 4, an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of Schwerner. When he heard Schwerner had come to Neshoba County investigate a recent Klan attack on a Mt. Zion Church, he made his move.
On June 21st, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman arrived at the burned church and met with some of the members who had been beaten. They soon learned Schwerner had been the real target as he’d been expected to be at the church when the attack took place.
Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price
Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers
As the men left the area with the intent to return to Meridian, MS, Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price pulled the three men over for speeding. He arrested them for suspicion of arson for the fire at Mt. Zion Church.
I can only imagine what went through those boys minds. All three had to know they were in deep trouble.
They were never seen alive again.
The KKK didn’t count on the disappearance of three civil rights workers in southern Mississippi getting so much national attention. The FBI was soon involved, and after a KKK member turned informant, put together the following timeline:
* Schwerner was denied a jailhouse phone call.
* Deputy Price informed Klansmen of the capture of Schwerner.
* Klansmen organized of group for some “butt ripping.”
* Two Klan meetings were held, and it was decided the younger Klan members would kill the workers.
* The men were freed from jail around 10 p.m. Price followed them up Highway 19
* After a high-speed chase, Chaney stopped the car and the three surrendered.
* They were placed in Price’s patrol car and driven down a dirt road.
* The workers were taken from the car. Schwerner was shot first, then Goodmen, then Chaney. The FBI’s informant said Chaney was shot twice.
*The bodies were taken to a 253-acre farm with a dam site. They were placed together and covered with dirt.
* On August 4, 1964, the FBI received information about the bodies, and they were recovered.
The bodies of Schwerner, Goodmen, and Caney.
It gets worse. The charges against 19 participators were dropped because a judge ruled the informant’s information was hearsay.
The group was finally brought to trail in 1967. Seven were found guilty, including Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers.
Federal Judge William Cox, a known segregationist, imposed sentencing. Price received six years, Bowers 10.

They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.–Federal Judge William Cox.

We have come a long way since the terrible events in Mississippi in 1964. I can only hope the death of these three men served some great purpose. Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in this country, especially in the south. Last year, a Mississippi federal judge ordered a school to change attendance policies that he said amounted to racial segregation. In other Mississippi counties, segregated proms and other events have taken place. Why? Is the color of skin such an intimidating factor? I will ever understand how a white person can see someone who looks different than they do and automatically believe that person is somehow inferiorer.
What about you? I know some of you are from the South – have you seen the continuing segregation? Have things changed since you grew up? What about those of you from other parts of the country and world? Is racism still a factor?

16 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Mississippi Burning”

  1. i have a mixed child and iam very proud of him.we are all different in our own ways,but we are all from the same race,and that is the human race.and i do live in southern mo,and have not seen any racism,just good old southern hospitality

  2. I am a southerner, thank goodness times have changed. The violence of the civil rights era rarely occurs anymore. I am one of only a few African Americans in my neighborhood. On move in day I was greeted to a warm neighborhood reception. Rascism will always exist to some degree, but let's hope that it is never again expressed through violence.

  3. RparksYou're right, we are all different but certainly not because of skin color. So superficial. I'm so glad you and your child haven't had to deal with any racism:) Thanks!ReneeThat's so good to hear. You're right, it will always exist but hopefully the violence is long in our past. I think the election of Obama was a big step in the right direction. Thanks!

  4. I appreciate this well-researched post. I knew of these events, but I didn't know as much as I do now. Being from the South and racism…I don't know. I think there is a grain of truth to every stereotype, and that is why it exists in the first place. I live in a suburb of the 4th largest city in the US. I don't see a lot of overt racism. That is not to say it isn't here. Segregation. My cousin, who is white, was once asked to leave a store that was predominantly frequented by people of another race. However, I've been in stores and restaurants where I was the only white person. Nobody seemed to care. I can't truthfully say because I'm in X town or in Y state, I'm going to be treated ___ way. What I've experienced is that that there are haters of all colors. They live everywhere. Nobody is exempt. If they find you, you'll know.

  5. Thanks, Catie. I didn't know as much until I researched it, either. I see what you're saying. I think it goes both ways in many cases. And you're right, there are haters of every color. It's too bad people have a hard time seeing past the surface.

  6. I think we all tend to learn when we are very young that there are "people like me" and "others." Part of being civilized is widening the "like me" group to include all people, and to recognize that inner differences are far more important than visible ones. The real problem comes when we define "Others" as "not human like me," something all too common in the world today.

  7. Fascinating and tragic post – of another time, yet sadly not all gone. My family is all southern and I know they wish I married a "good southern boy" as we're all corrupt here in the North – but history makes me wonder. The mentality when I visit the south boggles me whenever I go – it's like they are still stuck in the Civil War. Lines are still being drawn. Sad.

  8. Sue AnnYou're right. That is something we learn at a young age. I like your analogy of learning to widen the "like me" group – that's very true. Thanks!DonnaLOL, your husband is a Yankee, huh. I know a lot of small towns in the south are still behind the times, in both good and bad ways. Thanks for commenting!

  9. I'm a Georgia native. These stories still give me the chills. It's hard to imagine people still hold the values and ideas of those killers. Today, I see more racism along the lines of hispanic immigrants. Several years ago when I traveled to Africa for a safari, I spent several days in South Africa. The post-apartheid world continues to form there. Racism seems very fresh and painful. Shocking stories there as well. Thanks for sharing this story in all its ugliness. It's difficult to remember these stories, but we shouldn't forget them.

  10. StacyI can't imagine living in that environment, especially in South Africa. It's amazing how different things are over there. I pray those people move forward as most of our country did.You're welcome, and thanks for commenting.

  11. Personally, I think our country has come a long way over the decades, but there is still extreme racism in our country – especially the south.

  12. I couldn't agree more, Tiffany. We have come a long way to go, but as long as there's humankind, there will be prejudice.Thanks!

  13. Thanks for posting this Stacy. Both of my parents are from South Carolina so, growing up as little black girl, they made it a point to school me in the "ways of the world." At an early age, I knew the tragic stories of these three, of the four little girls killed in a church bombing, of Emmett Till. I live way up north in Ohio and the reality is, as another commenter said, that racism will always exist to some degree. It is a sad American legacy. Sometimes it is as obvious as someone hating a minority on first sight or a running undercurrent where a person is reacting based on learned stereotypes. That said, it isn't how we have to live in the world. I approach life and the people I meet with the expectation that they don't have these feelings and am blessed to be mostly right. 🙂

  14. BarbaraYou're welcome. The four little girls is an even sadder story. So unfair. Racism is an American legacy, and I think it comes from fear of the unknown. For whatever reason it seems to be natural to be put off by people who seem different, and some react with cruelty while others brush it off and accept the difference.Thanks for commenting!

  15. I have lived in Texas all but 2 1/2 years of my life, and instinences of racism have thankfully been the exception rather than the rule. I see more class discrimination than I do distinctions based on race, although there are still people who consider others inferior or unwelcome based on skin color. The story you related is a reminder of the horror of racism, and I am thankful that we have come a long way but of course we can go further.

  16. JulieI'm really glad to hear that. I think class discrimination is an issue all over the country. We definitely have it here. Yes we have. Hopefully we'll continue to close the gap. Thanks for commenting!

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