Recently I was in the mood to read a book, but where my first choice is usually of the chick-lit variety, on this day I wanted to read something with substance. Not finding anything on my Nook, I opted to go to the e-book choices at my local library to see what they had for me to be able to download on the spot (it was a Saturday night and the “real” library was closed).
The first book listed was “A Race Against Time: A Reporter Re-Opens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era” by Jerry Mitchell. I instantly downloaded it. This book blew me away. So many stories that I remember learning in my high school history class that I thought were solved, weren’t.
This fact astounded me.
There were basically 4-cases that were discussed throughout the book and finally brought to trial. It began with the case of Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. They were murdered by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for registering African-American’s to vote. They were killed in Meridian, Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. They were shot and thrown into a dam and buried 15 feet in the ground. In the mid-to-late 1980’s Jerry Mitchell, a writer for the Clarion-Ledger began writing about the wrongs done to these 3-men hoping to be able to bring their killers to justice. However, due to a lack of “hard” evidence, they were unable to take it to trial. Eventually enough evidence is found to convict Edgar Ray Killen who planned and directed the murders of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Killen was found guilty in 2004 and he lived behind bars until he died in 2018.
Since initially the above murders are not able to be prosecuted, the book put it on the back burner and began focusing on the Medgar Evers trial. Medgar Evers was a black man working for the NAACP, working tirelessly to get African-American’s registered to vote in the South in the 1960’s. But on June 12, 1963 at about 12:30am, Byron De La Beckwith shot him in the back with a rifle. De La Beckwith was tried twice, once in 1963 and again in 1964 and both ended in a hung jury. But in 1994 the case was re-opened and ended in a guilty verdict. He died in 2001 at the age of 80.
The third case that was brought was for Vernon Dahmer (pronounced DAY-mer) who was another NAACP leader who was killed by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for registering African-Americans to vote (are you beginning to notice a trend?). His house was caught on fire and while he tried to keep the KKK at bay while his wife and children escaped the blaze, he was died of severe burns from the waist up. His murder was signed off by the Imperial Wizard himself, Sam Bowers, and though 4-different trials ended in a mis-trial due to Sam Bowers invoking the 5th Amendment, in 1998 he was finally found guilty. He was in jail until he died in 2006 at age 82.
The only Alabama case that was mentioned in the book was that of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963 where 4-young-African American girls were killed whit 20 more wounded. In 2002 Bobby Frank Cherry was finally convicted of setting the bomb. He died in 2004.
Why I Was Mad
Why was I so livid when I discovered that these men were put to justice after 20-40 years? Because I thought they had been punished for their crimes when it happened in the 1960’s. I never dreamed that these people were allowed to roam free and have lives. When I read about Medgar Evers death in my history book I had no inkling that his killer wouldn’t be brought to justice until I was a sophomore in college (to put this in a better perspective, a crime committed 10 years before I was born wasn’t prosecuted until I was 21 years old).
The sad part is that white supremacists still roam the earth today. Just within the past 2 years we had a man walk into a black church and do the exact same thing. Granted, he has been tried and found guilty, but that is the only difference. You would think that after all this time that color would no longer be an issue to fill people with so much anger. But it’s alive and well today.
I Highly Recommend It
If you like history you will appreciate this book. It is very well written, I like a book that is able to describe the scene in detail so I feel like I am there. I truly felt transported back to the 1960’s South as the relatives of these men told the stories of each of their lives.
Jerry Mitchell, the author, speaks to the widows of these men who just tried to give everyone the basic American right to vote. Something to think about as we head into a presidential election year, appreciate your right.