Everybody is a product of their environment. We have to either reject our environment or become damaged by it. I clearly saw that all of the attorneys had been damaged by Mississippi's virulent and protracted racism. I applaud Hood and Duncan for working hard, standing up to duty, and succeeding by the grace of God. Hood said in his press conference he wasn't blaming his predecessors. Clearly, he failed to understand the ramifications of this comment. Again, he's a product of the environment that he still doesn't have sense enough to reject (emphasis added).
Two recent articles say a lot about the environment Ray is speaking of and raise some questions about Jim Prince III and the Philadelphia Coalition, which Prince co-chairs, and which seeks to establish "a perpetual structure that will foster racial harmony and reconciliation."
The defense called three witnesses, including Harlan Majure, a former mayor of Philadelphia. He testified he knew Killen to be a good man, and had talked with him at a local funeral home the night of the murders. . . .
Asked on cross-examination by Mark Duncan, Neshoba County district attorney, if he knew Killen was in the Klan, Majure said he did not. Asked if his opinion would change if he knew Killen was in the Klan, Majure said no.
"I know some things about the Klan that a lot of people don't know. They've done a lot of good here," Majure said. "As far as I know, they were a peaceful organization." (Emphasis added.)
Harlan Majure hasn't heard from his sister Carolyn in the last few days.
They live about a mile and a half from each other, and in two weeks they're due to share a family cabin at the Neshoba County Fair. If anything between them has changed, neither can say what it is. He hasn't called her, and she hasn't called him.
It is not so remarkable that one member of the family would break from tradition and one would stick to it. More fascinating are other relationships among representatives of the New and Old South:
In Neshoba County, an isolated place with a static population, it seems nearly everyone is related, either by blood or by proximity. Judge Marcus Gordon, who is scheduled to sentence Killen today, grew up down the road from him, and his parents attended the church where Killen preached. A year after the civil rights workers were killed, Killen preached at a double funeral for Gordon's parents.
People here are so tightly connected that they have learned to blanket divisive topics with politeness.
When Majure's comments about the Klan were broadcast to the world, his friends and neighbors had three options: to support him, condemn him or avoid the subject.
Jim Prince III, editor of the Neshoba Democrat, decided not to worry about being tactful.
"That element is fossilized," said Prince, who has been close to Majure's family since he was born. "I put them into the category of 'We just need a few more good funerals.' When those people are dead and gone, hallelujah. Let them die and answer to their maker."
Prince said that he probably would pay Majure a visit later on to work out their differences. He had heard Majure was angry because Prince called his remark "ignorant" during an appearance on CNN. When Prince arrived at the newspaper office after taping that program, three people had called to cancel their subscriptions. (Emphasis added.)
I've already commented on what was, at the very least, a conflict of interest for Judge Marcus Gordon. But then there's Jim E. Prince III, co-chair of the Philadelphia Coalition; he has a life long affiliation with Majure, who is at best a Klan sympathizer. According to journalist Karen Juanita Carrillo's sources in Mississippi, Prince's grandfather was the former head of the White Citizens' Council—not in and of itself damning, since change surely happens across the generations. However, one begins to wonder.
In an unattributed Neshoba Democrat article on the Philadelphia Coalition memorial event in June, 2004, amid reports of calls for justice and racial reconciliation, one finds this statement, concerning the conflict that arose between Philadelphia Coalition members and Ben Chaney, brother of James Chaney:
The coalition had attempted to work with Chaney and his spokesmen, a convicted felon from California with Neshoba County ties and a white man from Arkansas, members said.
Mr. Chaney's "spokesman" is an African American, Neshoba County native, well known to people in Philadelphia and well known to civil rights activists. Former Mississippi SNCC worker Ira Grupper responded to the comment, above, by unnamed Coalition members, as follows:
I happen to know the two men above-referenced, and they are not spokespersons for Mr. Chaney, although they have worked with him in the past. The former is an African American from Philadelphia, whose family was key to the civil rights movement in the area. All three of the civil rights workers came to visit this family on June 21, 1964. The family was among the last persons to see them alive before they were captured by local cops. This brother is widely believed to have worked longer and harder for justice for the murder victims than anyone else in Neshoba County.
I am glad Jim Prince III is so concerned about the feelings of long-time Klan sympathizing family friends and wants to make sure they are not too badly offended when he goes on record to say Philadelphia. MS will be better off when the worst of its racists are all dead. Is he willing to make a comparable effort with the brother of James Chaney who was murdered because of such racists, either through complicity or intent?
There is reason to think the Philadelphia Coalition is dismissive of Ben Chaney and purposefully excluded him from Philadelphia's memorialization of his brother and the other two murdered civil rights workers. At this year's annual memorial service for Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, on the land of civil rights pioneers Cornelius and Mable Steele, Ben Chaney recounted how last year when he agreed to consider bringing the Freedom Summer 2004 bus tour to the memorial program of the Philadelphia Coalition at the Philadelphia Coliseum, the Coalition promised that neither Governor Haley Barbour nor Charles Pickering, Sr. nor his son would be at the 2004 event. Barbour has well known associations with Mississippi's white supremacist establishment. The senior Pickering has a track record showing a lack of sensitivity to civil and equal rights issues. Despite earlier assurances to the contrary, all three men were on stage at the Philadelphia Coliseum event in 2004. As Ben Chaney put it at this year's memorial on the Steele family land, “the people who murdered my brother loved the confederate flag. Gov. Barbour wears the flag on his lapel.”
But maybe the fallout has just been due to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings. Shouldn't Jim Prince want to extend himself in order to make the Chaney family feel fully welcome? Was Ben Chaney being "difficult"? I can't say, but if he was, maybe there are reasons for that and Philadelphians invested in truth and reconciliation should be trying a little harder to deal with it.
The second article about the environment that shapes Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is Gary Younge's "Racism Rebooted: Philadelphia, Mississippi, Then And Now," which appeared on The Nation website two weeks ago. Racism Rebooted concludes with a quotation from Jim Prince III, who believes that Neshoba County's racist legacy is well in the past.
"Race is not an issue now for younger people," says Prince. "Today, if you're willing to work hard and be honest, then you're able to succeed. There is equal opportunity in Philadelphia."
Younge's excellent article, which should be read in full offers a barrage of facts that discredit Prince's assertion:
In a state where African-Americans constitute 36 percent of the population, they make up about 75 percent of prisoners. In a state that is already poor, black people are poorer still: According to the latest census, Mississippi has the fifth-lowest median income in the United States; the per capita income of black Mississippians is 51 percent that of their white counterparts. If there are tougher places to be black than Mississippi it is because those places are so bad, not because Mississippi is so good.
When he visited Prince in his office at the Neshoba Democrat, Younge noted that Prince sat "under a huge picture of Ronald and Nancy Reagan's visit to the Neshoba County Fair in the 1980s." Prince himself has said that Ronald Reagan is one of his heroes:
Perhaps Reagan’s 1980 appearance at The Neshoba County Fair — when I was just 16 — and because he was the first president I voted for have something to do with my affection, that he is a hero of mine.
All should welcome conservatives to the table of racial reconciliation: such dialogue is essential. But Southern conservatives who voted for Reagan were not just voting for "an eternal optimist" who, in Prince's words, "fought against a secular entitlement society seen in liberal idealism." They voted for the reactionary who stood stood up at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980 and pandered to the very worst elements of Southern "heritage," famously declaring:
I believe in states' rights. I believe that we've distorted the balance of our government by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to the federal establishment.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson explains the significance of Reagan's appearance and his statements at the Neshoba County Fair:
In appearing at the fair, Reagan did something that neither conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater or President Richard Nixon did. He was the first presidential candidate in the near century that the fair had been held to speak at the event. Indeed, he deliberately and calculatedly chose the Neshoba Fair to kick off his presidential campaign. When Reagan took the stage, with dozens of Confederate flags festooning the fairground, the crowd chanted, "We want Reagan." A beaming Regan shouted back, "There isn't any place like this anywhere." There was thunderous applause, and rebel yells.
Reagan then got down to business. He tore into Washington bureaucrats, i.e. the Democrats, big government and welfare. He then shouted the words that everyone wanted to hear, "I believe in states' rights. I believe that we've distorted the balance of our government by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to the federal establishment."
The Reagan revolution didn't merely return America to a world in which God, patriotism, rugged individualism, militant anti-communism and family values ruled supreme. There was the ugly, and dark subtext; unspoken but understood, and indeed anticipated, that the Reagan revolution would roll the clock back to the pre-civil rights days when blacks, minorities and women knew their place (emphasis added).
Indeed, the Neshoba County Fair has long been a place where the Ku Klux Klan disseminated its message. In August, 1964, the Klan distributed the Special Neshoba County Fair Edition of The Klan-Ledger by dropping the publication onto fair-goers from airplanes. Just two months after the murders of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, the Ledger prepared an interview with one of the Klan's "officers," discussing the case:
Q. What is the real story in the case of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, the deceased Communist Revolutionaries?
A. It is difficult to say. It is reasonable to assume, however, that if the corpses which were found in the dam were the remains of the three, they were probably killed by unknown persons. . . .
Q. Was the White Knights of the KU KLUX KLAN involved in this case?
A. Only to the extent of doing everything possible to expose the truth about the communist and political aspects of the case. We are primarily concerned with protecting the good name and integrity of the honest people of the State of Mississippi against the physical and propaganda attacks of the Communist Agitators and Press.
When Prince praises Reagan for being part of "part of the seismic political shift that would lead Mississippi to a two-party system" in which "he took nearly 60 percent of the vote in Neshoba County [in 1980] and by 1984 he received 72 percent," the newspaper editor praises the former President for furthering the southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon, making the Republican party the party of hardcore racist ideology. That's what Jim Prince III voted for and that's what he reveres with the photo over his desk.
If Prince won't acknowledge where he comes from, how can we trust his role in the truth and reconciliation process the Philadelphia Coalition is supposed to stand for? If he isn't running to retract the racist smear of a Black activist in the pages of his own newspaper and if he isn't working extra hard to talk to Ben Chaney so they can "work out their differences," we cannot be impressed when he makes calls for justice.
The Klan-Ledger did get one thing right:
Q. If American Patriots were involved, when will the case be broken?
A. That decision will be made by the Attorney General and the president solely upon the basis of political expediency and its bearing upon the campaign. The Principle of Justice will have nothing to do with it. The case will be broken at the time when the maximum political benefit will be derived from it.