Southern History and Civil Rights in the News 25 June 2021

Scout Johnson's picture

25 June 2021


This Week’s History:


This week marks three different anniversaries in events that were portrayed in the movie Mississippi Burning. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered 21 June as they participated in Freedom Summer, the movement to register African American voters in Mississippi. The three had travelled from Meridian to Longdale in Neshoba County to speak at a local church regarding the firebombing of Mt. Zion, another Black church in the community. On the return journey they were stopped by sheriff’s deputies who arrested Chaney on the pretext of speeding, and held Goodman and Schwerner and the three were held for hours before being released. Shortly after their release, they were stopped again, abducted, and murdered at another location before their bodies were buried in an earthen dam at yet another location. The conspiracy was thoroughly planned and wide-ranging: Mt. Zion had been burned to draw the trio into Neshoba County and the perpetrators included not only the county sheriff’s office, but the Philadelphia Police Department (Philadelphia is the county seat), and the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, helmed by Samuel Holloway Bowers.


The perpetrators were widely known, but as was typical throughout the South in the Jim Crow era, the state declined to prosecute. The United States DOJ did file civil rights charges against eighteen of the conspirators, gaining convictions in October 1967 of seven of those in United States v Cecil Price, et al. The first-ever convictions for the murder of civil rights workers in Mississippi resulted in sentences ranging from three to ten years, though none of the convicted served more than six years in prison. Few considered that to be justice but little was done for almost four decades until Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger (MS), aided by three Illinois high school students and their teacher, developed enough new evidence to bring Edgar Ray Killen, the mastermind, to trial. Killen was indicted on three counts of murder in January of 2005 and convicted of three counts of manslaughter 21 June 2005, forty-one years after the murders. Eleven years later, on 20 June 2016, the Mississippi Attorney General and US DOJ closed the investigations, arguing that there were no more living perpetrators to be sought.


References and Further Reading:

The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Trial: An Account,” Professor Douglas O Linder

FBI Files: Mississippi Burning (MIBURN Case)

Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era, Jerry Mitchell, Simon & Schuster, 2020

Between Remembrance and Repair: Commemorating Racial Violence in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Claire Whitlinger, University of North Carolina Press, 2020

Murder in Mississippi: United States v Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights, Howard Ball, University Press of Kansas, 2004


News Links:

Southern History

After the Lost Cause: Why are Politicians So Consumed with the Past?” The New Yorker

A Look Inside the Home of Harlem Renaissance Poet Anne Spencer, “ Southern Cultures


Civil Rights

57th Annual Memorial Service for Civil Rights Workers,” WTOK11, CBS affiliate Meridian, MS

What Investigations of Cold Cases from the Civil Rights Era Can Offer,” WTTW, Chicago PBS affiliate

Emanuel Shooting Survivor, Slave Trader’s Descendant Take Civil Rights Road Trip Together,” The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

“‘They Didn’t Do it for Nothing’: 2021 Freedom Riders Met by Veterans of Nashville Civil Rights,” Nashville Tennessean

The Push for LGBTQ Civil Rights Stalls in the Senate as Advocates Search for Republican Support,” The Washington Post

July 10 Deadline to Submit Ideas for Civil Rights Monument,” Birmingham Times (AL)

“‘Doing Something Bold.’ Before the Greensboro Four, There Was Durham’s Royal Seven,” The Herald Sun (NC)


Until next week, take care,


Michele “Scout” Johnson

Editor, H-South


This series of posts to H-South, “Southern History and Civil Rights in the News,” aims to generate and track informed public discussions of southern history and civil rights. To recommend a reading, please email Dr. Michele Johnson at