It was fifty years ago today that three young men, two whites from New York and a local black youth, were executed in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan and local law enforcement officials. The deaths of the three, Michael (Mickey) Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, went on to have a chilling effect on the movement to register black voters in the south - and was central to getting more involvement by the United States Justice Department in the process of ending the rule of Jim Crow.
The movie, Mississippi Burning, recounts the tragic murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, and the role of the FBI in coming to Mississippi and trying to solve those crimes.
The southern whites, as portrayed in the movie, seemed almost too ignorant and intolerant to have been real. They were presented as overdrawn caricatures of bigots - but real they were. The primary conspirators, few of whom were ever convicted of anything, were men with badges (of the "bubba" variety) and businessmen who prospered and profited by pandering to the poverty, insecurities, and fears of the locals. One was even a part-time Baptist minister. They spewed ignorance and hatred and were rewarded with votes, business, and the good will of the white community.
Mississippi has changed, perhaps not eagerly, in the fifty years since the murders of those young civil rights workers. But even with that change, there also remains a strong cadre of individuals who seem to be mired in another time. This Tuesday there will be a run-off election for Senator in Mississippi in which a man who has been in Congress for over forty years may lose his seat to a tea-party candidate. Neither candidate is a prize, but a tea-party victory would be a significant boost for the morale of the rabble who dream of taking the country back to where it was before Eisenhower went and ruined it!
And today there was a piece in Daily Kos reporting on a new study which ranks states according to their "gun sense." Almost predictably, Mississippi came in second from the bottom - leading only Louisiana. Over 54% of households in Mississippi have guns, and the gun death rate in the state in 17.80 per 100,000 individuals.
Clearly there are people in Mississippi who are insecure, and other people who are thriving on that insecurity and fear. Mississippi may no longer be burning, but the fire does not appear to be completely out.