Back To Mississippi

from the Vt. Record…

“It was nice to finally see (him) in chains. Friday (the day of the indictment) was a very good day, especially for those seeking justice in Mississippi,” says Ball, an expert on what is considered one of the nation’s most notorious civil rights era crimes and the subject of the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

The re-opening of the case and the fortuitous timing of the release of his latest book, Murder in Mississippi: U.S. v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights (University Press of Kansas), on the 40th anniversary of the murders has positioned Ball as national expert in virtually every major newspaper, on television and in a CourtTV live Internet chat.

Killen is the only person ever charged with murder in the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, though 18 were tried on federal civil rights violations in 1967. Of the group, Killen was the only one who never did any time for the crimes because of a lone holdout on his jury.

Ball, who arrived at UVM in 1989 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences after teaching at Mississippi State University, has followed the case most of his life hoping for another trial. But this final chapter in the unfinished story of the deaths of voter registration workers could very easily not have been told until long after Killen, 79, and Ball were gone if not for the order of a federal judge to open a number of files that were previously closed until 2050.

“There’s no question he’s the one,” Ball says. “He got the order from (Ku Klux Klan Wizard) Sam Bowers to kill Schwemer. The other two were killed because they were with him. He was the target because he was so good at civil rights organizing. Everybody knew (Killen) did it. But this was a closed county and a scary place back then. Everybody knew, but no one talked. They knew where the bodies were buried; they knew the property owner; and the sheriffs who were involved.”

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Charles Rathbone

Retired. Emeritus. UDL consultant, FIrst UU Racial Justice Committee, photographer, married, four children, five grandchildren. Embracing life, all of it. "Today is tomorrow's past."

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