Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mitchell blog: Records show Klan leader, 77, involved in abduction of murdered civil rights workers

Jackson Clarion-Ledget reporter Jerry Mitchell. in his latest blog entry, writes about a former KKK leader, still alive, who was involved in plotting the kidnapping of murdered civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, in 1964:

My story in today’s Clarion-Ledger details the case against reputed Klan leader Pete Harris, now 77. Let’s look at them in order:

1) In spring 1964, he and Klansman James Jordan visited Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was quoted by Jordan as remarking that civil rights worker Mickey Schwerner was “a thorn in the side of everyone living, especially the white people, and that he should be taken care of.”

2) In spring 1964, Harris attended key Klan meetings where Klansmen discussed “eliminating” civil rights worker Mickey Schwerner.

3) On June 16, 1964, Harris was present at a Neshoba County meeting, where Klansmen left and beat members of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church and then burned their church.

4) On the evening of the killings, June 21, 1964, Killen gathered Klansmen, including Harris, at Akin mobile homes sales lot in Meridian, according to testimony. Earlier that day, Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price had arrested three civil rights workers, including Schwerner, James Chaney and Andy Goodman. Killen told Klansmen that the civil rights workers were being held in jail and “needed their rear ends torn up,” according to testimony.

Jordan testified Harris made telephone calls, gathering more Klansmen for the job. When the Klansmen gathered to leave, Jordan said Harris told them he had to stay behind because he was a leader in the Klan.

That night, Klansmen intercepted the trio, killing them and burying their bodies 15 feet down in an earthen dam. But all the world knew on June 22, 1964, was that they were missing.

5) Jordan testified that a month after the killings he and Harris met with Bowers, who praised their work in eliminating the three civil rights workers.

Jordan testified Bowers urged them to get rid of their weapons and to stay quiet.

Don Cochran, a former prosecutor, said he believes there is almost enough evidence in the transcript alone to bring a case against Harris.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Identity of informant in murder of three civil rights workers still in question

In an article published today in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Jerry Mitchell explores the continuing mystery of the identity of the informant who told police how to find three civil rights workers in 1964, leading to their murders:

FBI records obtained by The Clarion-Ledger show three separate Klansmen-turned-informants for the FBI told agents that Price or the Neshoba County Sheriff's Department were tipped off by someone here in Longdale, an African-American community off Mississippi 19 nine miles east of Philadelphia.

Around lunchtime June 21, 1964, civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner arrived at the ashes of what once had been the Mount Zion Methodist Church, investigating what had happened. They spoke with church members, including Ernest Kirkland and Cornelius Steele, and interviewed Bud Cole, who had been severely beaten by Klansmen.

Minutes after they turned onto Mississippi 19, Deputy Cecil Price arrested them. That night, he released them into the hands of waiting Klansmen, who killed and buried the trio.

"You can conclude without a doubt there was an informant in the Longdale community," Ratliff said.

Back in 1964, the FBI investigated the informant question. One Longdale resident told the FBI that Clarence Hill was an informant for Sheriff Lawrence Rainey.

Hill, now 86, told The Clarion-Ledger that accusation is a lie.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Original Freedom Rider Ben Cox laid to rest

Funeral services for Rev. Ben Cox, one of the original Freedom Riders, were held Saturday:

The Rev. Dennis Blalock called Cox a "good soldier" in his eulogy, saying Cox had suffered and endured.
"True bravery is a spirit," Blalock said.
Cox rode buses in 1961 into segregated Southern states to protest transportation systems that, according to a PBS website about the civil rights movement, kept white and black patrons from sitting together on buses, trains and trolley cars.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Hattiesburg, Mississippi, kept from having trouble with Freedom Riders

Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, who continues to offer one remarkable story after another about the American civil rights movement, has another one in today's edition.

In it, Mitchell reveals the previously untold story of how Hattiesburg,Mississippi kept from having trouble with the Freedom Riders, with an interview of longtime Hattiesburg civil leader Bobby Chain:

Chain said the idea was simple: Let the Freedom Riders hold protests and provocations in peace. There would be no angry mob scenes, no retaliation.

"We met every morning at 7 o'clock to plan for the day's events," Chain said. "The places where we knew these people would go, we visited privately with (the owners/managers/proprietors), whichever one of us could best talk with them. We said, 'Now look, if (Freedom Riders) come talk to you, you be nice to them and no problems.'
"We got the bus stations to take down the 'white only' signs. We got the right people to see to that, too. This group we had, these were powerful men."

A search of issues of the Hattiesburg American from May though August 1961 had front-page news of the Riders - "mixers" as they also were referred to in the headlines - and their arrests in Jackson and other Southern cities.

But there were no stories of arrests or incidents involving the Riders during that summer in Hattiesburg.

Chain said the group stayed mostly behind the scenes. Had word gotten out, "(t)his probably wouldn't have been popular with some segment of our population, had they known what we were doing, but it never got out, and we kept this group together for two or three years because we didn't know how long (the Riders) would keep coming, and we had a few stragglers in the years after that."