Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, January 06, 2005  

Law: Leader in Mississippi murders charged

I have learned of an interesting new development in one of those cases in which civil rights activists were killed, but no state convictions occurred. Jonathan Singer, at Basie!, brought the news to my attention. Edgar Ray Killen, believed to me the ringleader of those responsible for the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, has been charged with three counts of murder in Neshoba County. A jury failed to convict Killen on federal charges in 1967. He has been a hero to some Mississippians during the subsequent decades.

The Washington Post is covering the case.

Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were killed during the voter-registration drives of what came to be known as the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The slayings of the multiracial trio -- Schwerner and Goodman were white, Chaney was black -- were later dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning.

Seven men were convicted of federal conspiracy charges by an all-white jury in 1967, but Killen went free after the jury deadlocked. The lone juror who held out against convicting Killen reportedly said he could not find a preacher guilty of murder. None of the men who were convicted served more than six years in prison. Mississippi never prosecuted the defendants on state murder charges.

More evidence seeped out over the years.

In 1999, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger published interviews with Sam Bowers, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, who said he attempted to influence the outcome of the case. Later, a group known as the Philadelphia Coalition urged law enforcement officials to reopen the case. Yesterday they got what they had been asking for.

Killen's trial will reveal how much influence the opponents of civil rights, who are definitely still very much present in the South, still have in the Mississippi Delta. The state's image would benefit by a conviction, but many white Mississippians are believers in white supremacy.

Singer will be shedding no tears for the elderly defendant.

It may be 40 years after the murders, but it's great to see that the case is finally reopened. Even if the people arrested in this case are in their eighties, I certainly hope they go to jail for every remaining second of their lives.

The neo-Confederates in forums I monitor are extremely proud of the racist abuses they and their leaders have gotten away with. Holding even one of their heroes legally accountable is one of the best anecdotes I can think of.

Reasonably related

Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town obscure except for being the site of the murders of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Doing so was a wink and nod to Southern voters who opposed civil rights. Jack White, at Time, has given the matter some thought.

posted by J. | 10:00 PM

Wednesday, January 05, 2005  

News: Shirley Chisholm set high standard

The nature of American history is such that well past the middle of the last century, people of color doing the kinds of things that democracy is supposed to guarantee could be deemed 'firsts.' One of those firsts was a state politician who graduated to the national stage when the progress of the civil rights movement resulted in African-Americans being significantly represented in Congress. CNN chronicles the passage of Shirley Chisholm.

MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Shirley Chisholm, an advocate for minority rights who became the first black woman elected to Congress and later the first black person to seek a major party's nomination for the U.S. presidency, has died. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called her a "woman of great courage."

Chisholm, who took her seat in the U.S. House in 1969, was a riveting speaker who often criticized Congress as being too clubby and unresponsive. An outspoken champion of women and minorities during seven terms in the House, she also was a staunch critic of the Vietnam War.

Details of her death on Saturday were not immediately available. She was 80.

Chisholm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, a campaign that was viewed as more symbolic than practical. She won 152 delegates before withdrawing from the race.

"I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo," Chisholm said in her book The Good Fight. "The next time a woman runs, or a black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start."

A favorite phrase Chisholm used to describe herself was "unbought and unbossed." Despite the benefits available to black politicians who compromised their values, such as contemporaries Edward Brooke and Samuel Pierce, Chisholm remained steadfastly her own person. That meant weathering criticism for being outspoken and not knowing her place.

"My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn't always discuss for reasons of political expediency," she told voters.

She never wavered.

A memorial service for Shirley Chisholm will take place Saturday in Palm Coast, Florida. She will be buried in New York City.

posted by J. | 9:00 PM