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I was in the beginnings of the development of my social awareness when the Civil Rights Movement and Dr Martin Luther King were challenging the belief sets of the racists in the Deep South, just old enough to remember his murder and the news of the riots that raged in the aftermath.
Growing up in Upstate New York as the eldest child of a highly respected Episcopal Priest for a father and an accomplished RN mother, I had never been exposed to any thought of racial or religious hatred - though they were not too fond of Republicans, something that my embracing of Nelson Rockefeller's GOP would disturb them later. My parents instilled a sense of inclusivity in their three children, something that shaped all of our life journeys as educators and musicians. The idea that the color of human skin could affect so many people to the point that they felt driven to horrible acts of cruelty was unfathomable. While I now understand that these hatreds exist, I remain sickened by those citizens who believe that they are justified in their actions of prejudice and bigotry.
Yet we learned during 1968 and the turbulent decades that have followed that there are those who find those acts of violence not just acceptable, but necessary. By the time I was ten in 1970, I had learned of the Freedom Summer and the horrible actions of a despicable group of men. They were - and are - many of the forerunners of the Deplorables, and in some cases, very likely one and the same.
"This is a terrible town. The worst I've seen. There is a complete reign of terror here." was Dr King's observation of Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town so racist that no member of the town's administration was without a close connection to the Ku Klux Klan, if they were not members themselves. A town so full of hatred and fear that during the investigations into the disappearances of Congress Of Racial Equality volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, another seven bodies were discovered in Neshoba County. After a few months, the trio's remains were discovered buried in an earthen dam on property owned by one of the local business leaders. And the murderers were proud.
Killen, left, with Neshoba County Sheriff Deputy Price awaiting the outcome of their trials. Killen walked free when his jury was hung; Price was found guilty of violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, serving 54 months.
Prouder still when only seven convictions resulted from the case the federal government brought, for the State of Mississippi saw no reason, nor need to prosecute. It was by no means certain that any trial would take place, for J Edgar Hoover had to be forced into sending in the FBI by Lyndon Johnson, for the Director believed that the activists were too closely connected to Communists and/or Socialists, and did not wish to appear to be supportive of those kind of people.
There were those who eluded justice, many never facing a judge or jury despite the knowledge and/or belief of the suspects involvement. It was only after 41 years that the man believed to be the lead planner of the activists' murders was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to three consecutive 20 year terms of confinement.
One phrase that comes to my mind is that "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied", typically spouted off by some defense attorney in the process of irritating the person holding the gavel while trying to have his client released. In this case, the entire Nation's citizens were allowed to observe with diminishing expectations the fiasco of a trial, the dismissal of charges and the knowledge that was imparted 40 years after the first case went to trial: that one man's jury had been hung because one juror could not convict a man of the cloth. So that man walked free, celebrating life until he was rearrested and convicted in his 80th year. Today that sentence came to an end.
On this day, the 12th of January 2018, Neshoba Ku Klux Klan leader and Preacher, Edgar Ray Killen, age 92, finally left this plain of existence.
Here is hoping that the Deplorable Preacher finally receives his just reward.
GS Jade Barrett, Chairman #SANE60
#socialjustice #resist #indivisible