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Posted by on Jan 6, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Inexorable Justice: Reputed Klansman Arrested in 1964 Civil Rights Worker Slaying


Justice may take decades…but many times it’s inescapable. And today it seemed like one of those days in Philadelphia, Mississippi — a Mississippi not the same as  it was 41 years ago:

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. – A reputed Ku Klux Klansman was arrested Thursday night on murder charges in the 1964 slaying of three voter-registration volunteers, one of the last unsolved mysteries from the civil rights era, officials said.

Neshoba County Sheriff Larry Myers told The Associated Press that the man, Edgar Ray Killen, 79, an ordained Baptist minister, was arrested at his home without incident.

The arrest followed a grand jury meeting Thursday that apparently included testimony from people believed to have knowledge about the killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, which were dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.�

Myers said Killen was being held on three counts of murder. “We went ahead and got him because he was high profile and we knew where he was,� the sheriff said.

Chaney, a 21-year-old black man, was from Meridian, Miss. Goodman, 20, and Schwerner, 24, were from New York. They were among hundreds of Freedom Summer volunteers, most of them white college students, who came to Mississippi in 1964 to educate blacks and help them to vote. The bodies of the three, beaten and shot to death, were found later in an earthen dam.

Killen was one of 19 men arrested on Dec. 4, 1964. The jury was unable to reach a verdict at his federal trial in 1967, and he was never retried.

You can read more about the three slain civil rights workers here.

I will now date myself: I remember this slaying quite well, since I was in school at the time. It galvanized the country enormously, sparking a pro-civil rights backlash in most parts of the country that was not what the murderers of the three young men had in mind. The brutalized youths became matryrs ….even among those who weren’t out in the streets marching for civil rights…TV (pre-cable), radio (pre-Rush and Howard) and newspapers (pre-blogs) were crammed with stories about the deaths, which shocked the nation. As Wikipedia notes:

Their deaths shocked the American public and Congress and helped pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The incident became the inspiration for the film, Mississippi Burning.

One of the Klansmen inolved and federally convicted in the case died and there were fears that lingering aspects of the case would never be brought to a close. But now it seems it’s different; the clock has run out on an era.

NOTE: This was posted late last night and is hitting the wires now, so we’ve shifted this to today’s posts.


–Killen pleaded not guilty.

–A Civil Rights justice says "Justice delayed should not be justice denied."

London Times account with1964 photo of Killen. It includes this section on the reaction of some family members:

But the mother of one of the victims said that she had always believed that justice would be done in the end.

Carolyn Goodman, 89, said: "I knew in the end the right thing was going to happen. As I have said many times before, I am not looking for revenge. I’m looking for justice."

Ben Chaney, the younger brother of James Chaney, however, called the investigation a sham. He claimed that police had targeted one or two unrepentant Klansmen, but spared wealthy whites who he believed had had a hand in the killings. He called for the case to be turned over to the FBI and a special prosecutor appointed to continue the investigation.