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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.

One comment on “Mississippi Wounds Still Unhealed”

  1. Hat tip to Cordeq for his thorough comments on the Reagan speech at the Nashoba County Fair. Additionally digging on this end is required to address the voluminous details he provides.
    That much said, a few key points:
    1. Reagan's Use of Racial Politics
    The assertion here regarding Reagan is not that he was a racist, but that he was a political opportunist who cynically used the symbols of racial politics for electoral expediency. For other reactions within the African-American community to the symbolism of Reagan's choice, see Walter Fields.
    As for Reagan's apocryphal welfare queens and appointments like James Watt (of "a woman, a black, two Jews and a cripple" fame), readers can make an assessment of the Gipper's racial sensitivity themselves.
    2. Yesterday's Southern Conservative Democrats - Today's Southern Conservative Republicans
    I stand by the points regarding the migration of southern conservatives from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. Cordeq rightly points out that the South was a Democratic lake until the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Nixon's "Southern Strategy." (The Republicans were the party of Lincoln and freed blacks.) Those who filibustered anti-lynching legislation, especially in the 1920's and 1930's most definitely WERE Democrats. They shamefully blocked the anti-lynching bills, wirh the tacit support of Northerners like Roosevelt who feared alienating them.
    But it was precisely the civil rights struggle, the Brown decision, the Civil Rights Act, and policies like affirmative action that drove their successors into the Republican Party. LBJ knew this at the time of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, which he feared would lose Democrats the South for a generation. He was right. The South is Republican; Southern voters are Republican; their elected officials are Republicans. (Many officials even switched parties.)
    The ideological ancestors of today's Southern Conservative Republicans were Southern Conservative Democrats. They changed parties when the Democratic Party changed its complexion.
    As for today's filibuster fight, all you need to know is the theme of the "Justice Sunday" event that Bill Frist so enthusiastically supported:
    "THE FILIBUSTER AGAINST PEOPLE OF FAITH - The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and now it is being used against people of faith."
    3. The Rest of the GOP Neo-Confederates
    Cordeq's response silence is telling regarding Lott, Demint, Allen, Barbour, Blunt, Ashcroft, and the rest of the GOP neo-Confederates.


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

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