Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Malone reviews Ball, Justice in Mississippi

Christopher Malone, Department of Political Science, Pace University, has a recent review in the Law and Politics Book Review of JUSTICE IN MISSISSIPPI: THE MURDER TRIAL OF EDGAR RAY KILLEN, by Howard Ball (University Press of Kansas, 2006). Malone begins:
The story of the deaths of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were well known before the summer of 2005 when, after forty-one years, a Neshoba County jury found Edgar Ray Killen guilty on three counts of manslaughter in their deaths. What happened in between the night of their untimely murders and Killen’s conviction is the subject of Howard Ball’s engaging if somewhat repetitive new book, JUSTICE IN MISSISSIPPI. Ball, a professor of law at Vermont Law School, taught at Mississippi State University in the 1970s and 1980s. It is clear from his recitation of the “Preacher” Killen story that Ball is intimately familiar with the state as well as the players involved. In fact, this is the second time he has written about it – and JUSTICE IN MISSISSIPPI should be seen as an important follow up to his MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI.
Ball’s story begins long ago in what many might describe as a land foreign to the Mississippi in which the 80 year-old Killen was convicted on June 21st, 2005. Three civil rights workers –Schwerner and Goodman white, Chaney black – were brutally murdered exactly forty-one years earlier in the dark quiet of a dirty back road in Neshoba County, Mississippi. They came against the backdrop of an extraordinary, and extraordinarily turbulent, period in American history. Within that year alone stretching back to the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King had given his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and Lyndon Johnson was about to sign the most important piece of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history outside of the Fourteenth Amendment. The country was already roiling, and the senseless murders of these three brave young men – who had descended upon Neshoba County simply to try to register blacks to vote – only exacerbated the conflict over civil rights in the heart of the Old Confederacy.
Their story became the rallying cry for the civil rights movement, and in 1967, after three years of investigation by the FBI, the federal government indicted eighteen Mississippi Klansmen for conspiracy to commit murder. Seven were convicted. But not surprisingly, no one was ever brought to trial at the state level for the deaths of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. National attention waned; the civil rights movement ran out of steam, and soon the deaths of the three civil rights workers were put in the “cold case” file.

For the rest of the story, and review, click here.