Synopses & Reviews
The slaying of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964 was a notorious event documented in Howard Ball's 2004 book Murder in Mississippi. Now Ball revisits that grisly crime to tell how, four decades later, justice finally came to Philadelphia.
Originally tried in 1967, Baptist minister and Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was set free because one juror couldn't bring herself to convict a preacher. Now Ball tells how progressive-minded state officials finally re-opened the case and, forty years after the fact, enabled Mississippians to reconcile with their tragic past.
The second trial of 80-year-old "Preacher" Killen, who was convicted by a unanimous jury, took place in June 2005, with the verdict delivered on the forty-first anniversary of the crime. Ball, himself a former civil rights activist, attended the trial and interviewed most of the participants, as well as local citizens and journalists covering the proceedings.
Ball retraces the cycle of events that led to the resurrection of this "cold case," from the attention generated by the film Mississippi Burning to a new state attorney general's quest for closure. He reviews the strategies of the prosecution and defense and examines the evidence introduced at the trial-as well as evidence that could not be presented-and also relates first-hand accounts of the proceedings, including his unnerving staring contest with Killen himself from only ten feet away.
Ball explores the legal, social, political, and pseudo-religious roots of the crime, including the culture of impunity that shielded from prosecution whites who killed blacks or "outside agitators." He also assesses the transformation in Mississippi's life and politics that allowed such a case to be tried after so long. Indeed, the trial itself was a major catalytic force for change in Mississippi, enabling Mississippians to convey a much more positive national image for their state.
Ball's gripping account illuminates all of this and shows that, despite racism's long stranglehold on the Deep South, redemption is not beyond the grasp of those who envision a more just society.
"In a follow-up to his Murder in Mississippi, Ball provides an account of the 2005 trial and conviction of 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen, who in 1964 orchestrated the murders of three civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County, Miss. Ball, a Vermont Law School professor, clearly articulates his view of the trial as 'a prism through which to gauge the nature of change in a city, a county, and a state that have resisted change using... violence and even murder for hundreds of years.' Ball also has a point of view, and throughout his harrowing description of the degradations blacks routinely suffered in pre Civil Rights movement Mississippi, he displays a deep sense of outrage and anger over the brutal, state-empowered racism. According to Ball, the changes that allowed Killen to be brought to justice were varied and included media efforts, particularly the 1988 movie Mississippi Burning and local community groups seeking a South African style reconciliation between blacks and whites. The insights into the evolving Southern culture make this worthwhile reading, and Ball's guarded optimism about the future is encouraging. With Killen's conviction, he writes, '[T]here is at last the beginning of racial reconciliation.' 28 b&w photos. (Sept. 8)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The compelling real-life story of the criminal investigation, indictment, and trial of Edgar Ray Killen, the preacher and former Ku Klux Klansman finally convicted in June 2005 for the deaths of three civil rights workers—forty-one years after their brutal murders. A stunning final chapter to the case immortalized in the movie Mississippi Burning.
Table of Contents
1. Change in Mississippi: Mississippi vs. Edgar Ray Killen in Perspective
2. The 1964 Murders, the 1967 Federal Conspiracy Trial, and the Long Silence, 1964-1989
3. From Silence to Dialogue: Initial Efforts to Reopen the 1964 Murders Case, 1989-2001
4. Toward the Indictment of Edgard Ray "Preacher" Killen, 2002-2005
5. The Murder Trial of Edgar Ray Killen, June 13-21, 2005: Participants, Environment, and Jury Selection
6. The Murder Trial of Edgar Ray Killen, June 13-21, 2005: Testimony and Post-Trial Events
7. Beyond 2005: Truth, Reconciliation, and Change in Mississippi