Truth and Reconciliation in Neshoba County

Mississippi Region Grapples with Legacy of Civil Rights Murders

Listen: <b>Web Extra:</b> Listen as Three Current and Former Neshoba Residents Try to Come to Terms with the Past

A missing persons poster for civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henr

A missing persons poster for civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner, who disappeared on June 21, 1964. Their bodies were discovered Aug. 4, 1964. Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Corbis
Arecia Steele

Arecia Steele, 73, reflects on changes in Neshoba: "I used to hear my granddaddy talk about how to hang them up on the limb. Thank you, Jesus, you don't find that no more." Marisa Penaloza, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Marisa Penaloza, NPR

This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of Mississippi's most notorious civil rights murder cases. On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers, in Mississippi for "freedom summer," were killed after traveling to Neshoba County to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion, a black church. No one has ever been charged with murder in the case, even though federal agents identified a local group of Ku Klux Klansmen as the killers.

Most of the suspects are now dead, but some still live in town — most notably, Edgar Ray Killen, the alleged leader of the Klan klavern that chased down the civil rights workers, took them to a quiet county road and shot them. For years, the history of Neshoba County's racial violence was hushed up — not taught in schools, or talked about in upstanding white families.

Web Extra: Coming to Terms with the Past

Neshoba County residents Lavada Cole, 51, and Jennifer Hawthorne, 40 -- both members of the Mt. Zion church -- discuss Philadelphia's painful history and the changes they'd like to see in their community. We also hear from Dawn Lea Chalmers, a 34-year-old native of Philadelphia.

Listen Listen to Their Conversation

But as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, a task force of black and white citizens in Philadelphia, Miss., the Neshoba County seat, is trying to come to grips with the community's legacy. The group wants to publicly apologize and is calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

"I'm not one for asking that a 90-year old be sent to jail," says Jewell McDonald, who left Mississippi in 1964 and stayed away for 30 years. "But just stand up and recognize what you did."

NPR Producer Marisa Penaloza contributed to this report.

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