Perrspectives - Bringing light to Darkness

Mississippi Wounds Still Unhealed

June 21, 2005

In Mississippi, where Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was convicted today of manslaughter in the 1964 civil rights murders, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal asks its readers a simple question:
Do you think the Edgar Ray Killen trial and guilty verdict will mend the old wounds of the 1964 slayings?
The simple answer? No.
No, the dark cloud hanging over Philadelphia, the state of Mississippi and the South won't be lifted by this single compromise verdict. The wounds certainly won't heal as long as:

  • Mississippi Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran withhold their names from the Senate resolution apologizing for obstructing the passage of anti-lynching legislation.
  • Southern Senators like George Allen and Bill Frist cynically use yesterday's racial politics to fight the battles of today and tomorrow. For Frist, who addressed the grotesque "Justice Sunday" event, the lynching apology is merely a part of the struggle over the judicial filibuster. The Senate Majority leader seeks to tar the Democrats, whose southern conservative members (now Republicans) blocked anti-lynching legislation 100 years ago, as the party of the filibuster. And for Allen, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, the apology is a thinly-veiled cover for his previous display of a noose and a Confederate flag at his home, as well as his past declaration of "Confederate Heritage Month."
  • Leaders like South Carolina's Jim Demint, Missouri's Matt Blunt and Mississippi's own Haley Barbour condone the public display of the Confederate flag by state and local governments.
  • Figures like Lott, Allen, and John Ashcroft offer tacit support to the successors of the White Citizens' Councils with statements praising the agenda of Davis, Lee and Jackson (Ashcroft), calling the Civil War "the war of aggression" (Lott) or referring to the NAACP as "an extremist group" (Allen).
  • Hagiographers of Ronald Reagan take stock of the late President's campaign kick-off speech delivered in Philadelphia, Mississippi precisely to send a clear message about states' rights and race to the Republican primary electorate.

The people of Mississippi took an important and difficult step of atonement today. The stain of violent white racial hatred and a complicit public that produced the Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner killings, however, can never be fully cleansed. But all of us, white and black, North and South, can still be redeemed if we view today's verdict as the beginning, and not the end, of a process of deep reflection, positive change and a renewed sense of brotherhood.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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