Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mississippi Burning--and slow learning.

Watching the Jury deliver the verdict in the trial of Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, jump started a trip down memory lane. I was born and raised in the south. I came back from the Far East after a stint in the Army in Korea and as a civilian journalist for Pacific Stars and Stripes in Tokyo. I went to work for The Greensboro Daily News in 1959 and was one of the few cartoonists in the south supporting the civil rights movement.

I was eating lunch at Woolworths the day the five black university students sat down at the counter and asked to be served. It was the start of the “sit in” public accommodations movement. I got a first hand view of the tactics of the Klan and their redneck supporters while marching for public accommodations in Greensboro.

As I listened to some of the comments on the jury verdict of “manslaughter”for the brutal, premeditated beating and murder of the three young civil rights workers, I was reminded of the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Here was Fred Graham, of all commentators, saying that he thought that “in the real world” it was a good verdict and indicated how far Mississippi had come since “those days”.

Really? Well, Fred Graham–in the “real world”of the next few minutes after your comments --the prosecutor allowed as how the jury decision showed that Nashoba County, Mississippi was not the “caricature of Hollywood”—and should not be burdened by the stigma wrought by “a handful”of people.

In case your missed it Fred, that is a lot of “real world” denial. In “those days” there were no “handful” of racists! There was an entire power structure of racists! There was an infrastructure of racist print and local television media that fanned the flames of hatred for Yankee “nigger lovers”. There were hundreds of thousands of good Mississippians who turned the other way as their fellow citizens raped, lynched and murdered with impunity!

And in the “real world” of today’s Nashoba County there are those who take pride in the fact that their fellow citizens can look at a brutal, cold blooded murder and call it “manslaughter”.

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