Yesterday (June 20) federal and Mississippi authorities announced they were officially closing the book on the case in which three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss. by members of the Ku Klux Klan – at least one a sheriff’s deputy.
While nine people were convicted for the 1964 killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, only one has spent more than six years in jail, and that conviction didn’t come until 2005 when the defendant was 80 years old and wheelchair bound. All initially avoided state prison terms and the federal convictions predated federal murder statutes. Chaney was African-American and Goodman and Schwerner were white. The three were arrested for supposedly speeding in the harshly segregated Mississippi town and upon their release from jail the group was ambushed with the help of a sheriff’s deputy and executed. The trio’s true “crime” at the time was trying to register local Blacks to vote. The killings were the subject of the 1988 film, “Mississippi Burning.”
Edgar Ray Killen, considered the ring leader of the KKK mob, was finally convicted of the crime in 2005, when he was 80 years old. Sentenced to 60 years, Killen is behind bars today at the age of 91.
Killings of Blacks were so prevalent in the area at the time that when a Black body was found in a creek it was assumed to be that of Chaney, but it was another Black man who had been murdered.