Sunday, June 17, 2007

Burnham on Civil Rights-Era Murders

Margaret Burnham, Northeastern, has an excellent guest post on Jurist about the on-going trial of James Seale for the murder of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Thomas Moore, both 19 years old, by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in Mississippi in 1964. Burnham draws broader lessons from the case about the dangers to civil rights workers on the eve of Freedom Summer, and the obligations of the federal government. She begins:
For the past three weeks the James O. Eastland Federal Courthouse in Jackson, MS. has been the scene of what may turn out to be one of the most significant criminal civil rights trials in decades and yet it has been a sleeper as far as the national press is concerned. A racially mixed jury, sitting before an African-American federal judge, is hearing evidence in the conspiracy trial of an alleged Klansman accused of kidnapping and then drowning two young men in southwest Mississippi in May 1964. As I listened to some of the gripping testimony earlier this month, two points seemed clear. The first is that there were five - not three - civil rights slayings immediately prior to Mississippi Freedom Summer. And the second is that the federal government’s failure to fully alert the public to the nature of Klan/law enforcement collusion in Mississippi exposed African-Americans and civil rights activists to lethal harm.

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