Skip to comments.Townsfolk worry as 1964 civil rights murder trial nears
Posted on 06/12/2005 2:12:56 PM PDT by Valin
PHILADELPHIA, Miss. - Hicks. Rednecks. Racists. People who live in this town of 7,300 have heard the epithets slung their way for decades. And many - black and white - cringe as they anticipate how the world will view their town when reputed Ku Klux Klansman and part-time preacher Edgar Ray Killen goes on trial Monday in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers.
"People make it sound like its a hick town. Its not," said Bryon Whitley, a white 21-year-old who works in a music store on the downtown square, just across from the red brick Neshoba County Courthouse.
The murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner helped focus the nations attention on the struggle to register black voters in the segregated South. Chaney was a black Mississippian. Goodman and Schwerner were white Northerners.
They disappeared the night of June 21, 1964, when they were run off an isolated road nine miles south of Philadelphia. They were beaten and shot to death and their bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam several miles to the west.
The case became symbolized by photos of the burned hulk of the civil rights workers station wagon after it was dragged from the swamp where it was ditched after the killings - and of the smirking Klansmen who went on trial in 1967, not on state murder charges but on federal charges of violating the workers civil rights.
Killen, now 80, is the only person ever indicted on murder charges in the notorious case that was depicted in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning." His indictment in January came more than five years after the investigation was reopened. He walked free in 1967 after one juror reportedly said she couldnt vote to convict a preacher.
Many in Philadelphia, which is 75 percent white and 12 percent black, fear Killens trial will attract a circus of white-sheeted racists. At least one Georgia Klansman contacted the sheriff months ago to say he wanted to hold a demonstration.
Resident Joann Johnson, who is black, doesnt want the trial to stir up bad feelings. Johnson, now 42, was a toddler when the civil rights workers disappeared.
Strolling on the downtown square one day last week with her daughters, ages 8 and 2, Johnson acknowledged that Philadelphia has its share of racial problems. But she thinks most of the tension is limited to the older generations. Johnson said one of her closest friends is Killens stepdaughter-in-law.
"My children call her Aunt," Johnson said.
Jury selection for Killens trial starts Monday. Summons were issued to more than 400 people. Attorneys say opening arguments could start by Wednesday or Thursday, and the trial itself could last two weeks.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon denied a defense motion to delay the trial to give Killen more time to recover from osteoarthritis that was aggravated when both of his legs were broken in a tree-cutting accident in March.
Whitley, the young man who works in the music store, said that while the killings were wrong he sees no point in the state prosecuting anyone now, especially an 80-year-old man.
"Just let the issue die," Whitley said. "They shouldve done it sooner instead of waiting til now."
But others applaud prosecutors for trying to resolve the murder cases. Some are frustrated that it took four decades to reach this point and some dont understand why Killen was the only one indicted.
"If hes guilty, he didnt kill those boys by himself. He had help," said 34-year-old Elizabeth Coburn, who lives just down the street from Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church.
During the Freedom Summer of 1964, the church was a gathering spot for civil rights workers. It has a granite marker for Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner.
Because of her friendship with Killens stepdaughter-in-law, Johnson has mixed feelings. While she wants to see justice done, she said shes praying for her friend - and for her community.
"We have a great town," Johnson said. "I just hope things dont rip us in half."
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
CAST OF CHARACTERS FROM 37 YEARS AGO HAS CHANGED
BY LEESHA FAULKNER
People from Neshoba and Lauderdale counties packed a courtroom in the federal courthouse in Meridian for a glimpse at the notorious back in the fall of 1967.
The state hadn't brought murder charges. Federal prosecutors found a law originating in the 1870s that would haul into court reputed Klansmen the FBI believed responsible for the disappearance and murders of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.
The law provided that the accused had deprived the three civil rights workers of their civil rights. In order to get a conviction, federal prosecutors would have to prove a murder case.
Here are the people who stood trial 37 years ago:
- Cecil Price, deputy sheriff of Neshoba County. He pulled over the station wagon carrying Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Price charged Chaney with speeding and booked the other two for investigation. He took them to the Neshoba County Jail. Testimony during the federal trial revealed that Price had met with others to capture the trio when they were released from the county jail. Price received a six-year prison sentence. He died May 6, 2001.
- Lawrence Rainey, sheriff of Neshoba County. Federal investigators believed he was part of the conspiracy to capture the three. He was never placed at the actual scene of the capture and murder. He was not convicted. Rainey died Nov. 8, 2002.
- Sam Bowers, businessman from Laurel. Federal investigators believed Bowers was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who ordered the murder of Schwerner, also known as "Goatee." During the 1967 trial, Delmar Dennis, a self-confessed Klansman, said Bowers made his plan known in a coded letter about lumbering. Bowers received a 10-year sentence in 1967. He served no more than six years. In 1988, Bowers was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Vernon Dahmer, a civil rights activist in Hattiesburg. Bowers is alive and in custody at the Central Mississippi Correction Facility near Pearl.
- Horace Doyle Barnette, a Meridian auto parts salesman, an alleged eyewitness to the murders who confessed to the FBI. However, when he was indicted, Barnette repudiated his statement. During the federal trial, the judge ruled that because Barnette was a defendant, his statement couldn't be used against his co-defendants. Barnette received a three-year sentence. The Louisiana native is dead.
- E.G. "Hop" Barnett was a former Neshoba sheriff who served before Rainey was election. In 1967, Barnett was elected to another term as Neshoba sheriff. He was alleged to have been a Klansman. The jury couldn't decide on his participation in the case. He was set free. Barnett is dead.
- Olen Burrage was the owner of a trucking company in Neshoba county. Burrage owned the land where the three bodies were found. He was acquitted by the federal jury. He lives today just outside Philadelphia.
- Jerry McGrew Sharpe was a pulpwood buyer in Neshoba County. He was alleged to have been in one of the cars that pulled over Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman before they were taken to Cut Rock Road and killed. A jury couldn't decide on Sharpe's participation in the case. He was set free. Sharpe is dead.
- Edgar Ray Killen was a preacher. He was accused of helping set up the plot to kill the men and was alleged to have been present at the shooting and when the bodies were buried. A jury couldn't decide on Killen's participation in the case. He was set free. Killen operates a sawmill in Neshoba County. He is accused of murder in the deaths of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. His trial begins Monday.
- Billy Wayne Posey was the manager of a service station in Williamsville, just southwest of Philadelphia. He was a reputed Klansman, who witnesses testified took part in the burning of the Mt. Zion Church in Longdale to draw out Schwerner, so the civil rights worker could be eliminated. Posey was sentenced to six years in prison. He lives in Meridian. He is expected to testify for the prosecution during Killen's trial.
-Herman Tucker was a bulldozer operator believed to have driven the heavy machinery that buried the bodies of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney in the dam just southwest of Philadelphia. A federal jury acquitted Tucker. He is dead.
- Bernard Aiken was a mobile home dealer in Meridian. Federal authorities believed he helped plan the kidnapping and murders with other alleged members of the Lauderdale Klavern of the KKK. The jury acquitted Aiken in 1967. He is dead.
- Jimmy Arledge was a Meridian truck driver. FBI sources placed him at the scene of the murder in 1964. Arledge received a three-year sentence. He lives in Meridian.
- Travis Maryn Barnette was a mechanic from Meridian. He was alleged to have conspired, but not directly participated in the events. A jury acquitted Barnette. He is dead.
- James "Pete" Harris was a Meridian truck driver. He also was believed to have known about plans for the killing of Schwerner. A jury acquitted Harris of conspiracy. Harris lives in Meridian.
- Frank Herndon was a manager of a drive-in restaurant in Meridian. Evidence presented at the trial showed the restaurant located on Tom Bailey Drive was a hangout for suspected Klansmen. However, a jury acquitted Herndon. He is dead.
- Alton Wayne Roberts of Meridian was a mobile home salesman. He was also a bouncer in a Meridian nightclub. He was accused of being on the scene when Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were killed. Roberts was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served no more than six years. He is dead.
- Jimmy Snowden was a truck driver. He also was accused on being on the scene with the civil rights workers were murdered. Snowden was sentenced to three years in the federal trial. He lives in Hickory.
- Richard A. Willis was a city policeman in Philadelphia. He was accused of helping with the conspiracy. A jury acquitted him in the federal trial. Willis is believed to be living in Noxapater.
Don't forget Democrat Senator Robert "Sheets" Byrd!
NEWS FLASH: 50 years ago, this country didn't handle race very well.
If we keep wallowing in old memories of bad times, we will never understand how much better we have gotten. And that is precisely the point. The Democrats need us to wallow in Jim Crow memories -- because if blacks open their eyes, they will learn that they don't have to see themselves as victims anymore. And then where will the Democrats be?
You Mean The Filibuster Isn't The Center Of The Republic?
Captains Quarters ^ | 6/11/05 | Capt. Ed
Some white writers, notably Mark Twain, railed against it. Two leading civil rights groups, the NAACP and B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League, sprang up in part to counter lynching. Black journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett devoted her career to ending lynching. Seven presidents, starting with Benjamin Harrison in 1891, argued for making it a federal offense.
None of this swayed the Senate, where southern lawmakers insisted that a federal law would intrude on states' rights. One debate tied up the Senate for a total of six weeks in 1937 and 1938, and supporters were never able to break the filibuster.
That's what made the recent debate over the use of the filibuster such a tragic joke. Having Senator Robert Byrd, a former KKK recruiter, get up in the well of the Senate and lecture the GOP and the nation that ending the filibuster presented a danger to the Republic amounted to historical revisionism of the worst kind. While Harry Reid talked about Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (one of Frank Capra's worst and most idiotically idealistic films), the real, non-Hollywood Senate used the filibuster to ensure and to tacitly endorse the racial control that lynching provided. It isn't too far of a stretch to call it Southern terrorism.
Thanks to racists like Byrd, that tradition of filibustering continues today. In fact, Byrd (who isn't even mentioned in this article) filibustered the original Civil Rights Act in 1964, eating up 14 hours of debate before his own caucus finally put an end to his embarrassing display. It is a practice that allows the entire democratic process of the United States to be held hostage by a minority, even if it now requires a larger minority than before the rule changes which eliminated the need for continuous speechmaking.
The Democrats need us to wallow in Jim Crow memories
Whenever I run across someone who wants to do this I ask them which party controled the south in those days? What party was sheriff Clark a member of? Which party pushed the 64 Civil Rights act over the top? Which party was founded to do away with slavery?
"If we keep wallowing in old memories of bad times, we will never understand how much better we have gotten."
Rational folks know things have changed.
But there is no statute of limitations for murder. This phony preacher should rightly be prosecuted.
I believe thoughtful whites and blacks, liberals and conservatives would agree with that.
But this stuff becomes a big media sensation -- and NOT because there is no statute of limitations on murder. There is an agenda being worked here by the media.
I believe thoughtful whites and blacks, liberals and conservatives would see that.
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