We heard news this week that the investigation into the deaths in 1964 of the civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi was officially closed. After over fifty years, it is probably true that the parties involved in the killing are dead. Certainly the participants who were tried and acquitted in Neshoba County are dead.
Any student of this era of history is familiar with the trio of names Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. These three murders were part of the story in the movie Mississippi Burning and the documentary Neshoba in 2008.
Shortly after the deaths, William Bradford Huie, wrote a book titled Three Lives for Mississippi. I commend that book for its resonance for today’s politics that are riven with division and tenuously contained aggression. Here are a couple of quotes from the preface to this book. First there is an example of the Huie trademark of a bold and engaging statement in the first sentence. Second is at the conclusion of the preface.
Huie used the word “terrorism” to describe the acts of the killers of these brave three and the others engaged in race violence and murders.
Terrorism did not come to America for the first time on September 11, 2001. That horrible day was so vivid for the scale and the “otherness” of the perpetrators. White people in my home state of Alabama saw plenty of acts of terrorism in the 1960s: church bombings, murders and police aggression against peaceful marches. Whether my immediate forebearers recognized these acts as rank terrorism or failed to see them as such, William Bradford Huie, a truth-telling journalist from Alabama, called these people terrorists.
Here is what Huie said:
I am a Southerner and I hate what the Wallaces and the Barnetts and the Klansmen, and all the white supremacy terrorists are doing to the Negroes, to the South and to the United States.
I wrote the book for those citizens of Alabama and Mississippi, white and Negro, who hate intimidation and terrorism as much as I do. And I wrote it for the three young men I never met whose lives were good, and who, in the manner of their death, served the cause of liberty for all men. The day is coming, and soon, in Alabama and Mississippi, when good men and women such as Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb and Mrs. Viola Gregg Liuzzo can walk safely under the magnolias in Selma; and when good men like Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman need not fear the sight of a police car behind them in Mississipi.
The preface is signed: William Bradford Huie – Hartselle, Alabama – March 29, 1965.