« I'll Never Forget Alabama Law | Main | "They're playing a very vicious game here; they're seriously playing a game!" »

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Susan Klopfer

"Three guys. Civil Rights Workers..."

I feel a need to comment:

Mississippi journalist and self-described "good ole boy," the late Willie Morris, known for speaking out on civil rights matters with passion and some candor, believed there was some feeling in Mississippi after the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner "that we hit the bottom of the barrel … and that the better people of the South and of Mississippi must, as Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, ‘Try to respond to the better angels of our nature.’"

Morris, a native of Yazoo City, in a 1983 interview by author Studs Terkel talked about Florence Mars, a liberal white woman who served as his informant as he covered the Philadelphia, Mississippi story:

"Her courage comes in strange packages. She was forty years old during The Troubles (they always called that period "The Troubles") and here she was one of the handful of human beings in the town who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan controlled the police and a lot of the city government.

"In fact, it interested me that almost the only people in the town who stood up to the Klan were women. A few of them were the wives of Catholics who knew their husbands were not secretly members of the Klan because of the Klan’s traditional stance against the Pope."

Once visiting the spot where the three murders took place at sunset on Rock Cut Road, Morris said he'd written of experiencing a "palpable sense of these killings taking place in those red gullies…. The South and Mississippi could not stoop any lower."


Susan Klopfer

Susan Glisson represents "Ole Miss," less known as the University of Mississippi. The Ole Miss, here, does not mean "Old Mississippi." Rather, this endearing term stands for the wife of the "Ole Massah" on a plantation. This is exactly why this nickname was chosen (and can be traced historically). Ole Miss, in all of its desire to be on the leading edge of race and reconcilliation has managed, first of all, to avoid changing its Ole Miss nickname and even uses this term for the school's website. One day, wandering around campus, I talked to one of the few black students (13 percent) and she said it was pretty embarrassing going into the student union under the "Ole Miss" sign.

Secondly, this is a University that has refused to allow scholars to view the James O. Eastland archives. Eastland was a racist planter who represented this state for years. He brought in plenty of farm subsidies for himself but fought food programs for malnourished Mississippi children. The law school at Ole Miss is named for him. Only recently has a historian begun to go through the archives, and only after Eastland's crony was allowed access for years to "prepare" the documents.

My point is, too much has already been "negotiated" away in this state. One more good example was yesterday's refusal by Mississippi's senators to apologize for the racist stance taken by the very institution they represent. No one, including Susan Glisson, has the right to negotiate away common decency.


C.W. Roberson

Sadly, I, too feel a need to comment.

I truly don't understand this attack on Susan Glisson, a good and fine person, who has worked so hard to try to bring people together in Mississippi, and to bring some measure of reconciliation to this state. It's heartbreaking when I've seen her do so much to facilitate some measure of justice and yet she is attacked from all sides for it. I assure you, from certain knowledge, that the racists loathe Ms. Glisson and are enjoying this discussion immensely. I suggest that there may be information which you do not yet possess, but even more that if you disagree with Ms. Glisson's methods, there is a better place to have that discussion than in this public forum (which is available for the perusal and enjoyment of the likes of the Klan, Richard Barrett and hosts of less public bigots).

I beg of you a little further investigation and assessment of all the facts before you say words that cannot be unspoken.

I am, in a way, rather sorry that I came across this discussion today. I suppose I would have been more comfortable and less stressed now had I not. I was tempted to let it go and simply speak to you in Neshoba County tomorrow, but I find, because of the public nature of the remarks above, that I cannot leave it to just that. We do need to speak tomorrow, and I hope that we may be able to iron out some misconceptions. We can, if nothing else, speak our minds to one another and listen to one another and both come away knowing more.

I might suggest, humbly, that a better target would be those persons still living who were complicit in this crime and the people in Neshoba County who have shielded them all these years.

Thank you for listening.

Ben G.

C.W. Thank you for bringing your concerns out here. I have the utmost respect for you and for the things I've read by you and for what you do on your website. Rest assured, I will listen to anything you have to say and I am sure I will learn from you regardless of whether we come away agreeing with one another.

I do feel quite critical of the Philadelphia Coalition, but please do take my criticism in context. Click on the neshoba murders category at the bottom of this post and sift through all that I've put up, and you will see my preoccupation is not the Coalition per se but with the other 9 living suspects, the Sovereignty Commission and other culpable parties.

If you have the chance to read Susan's book (Where Rebels Roost: Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited) due out this week, you will see that she has contributed greatly to our understanding of the role of the Sovereigny Commission and people such as Senator Eastland.

Note that however one wants to interpret Susan Glisson's role in the Philadelphia Coalition, I was objecting specifically to how Leesha Faulkner a) made Glisson central to the campaign for justice in the Neshoba murders and b) minimized the roles of others in the crimes aside from Killen.

I do not believe that calls for justice that end with Killen are legitmate approaches to truth and justice in these matters. Perhaps off the record Susan Glisson and the rest of the Coaliton agrees with me, but on the record, they say their call for justice has been answered. Mine has not, nor has Ben Chaney's or others' been answered.

In its prominent role, the Philadelphia Coalition succeeds, whether accidentally or willfully, in ending the conversation about the truth much too soon.

There's more to say (from you, too, I'm sure), but I'll save that for when we meet—to which I am looking forward.

Susan Klopfer

"The potbellied coppers shook hands all around, with the hard-hats and red-necks who came into town.
And they swore that the murderers soon would be found, and they laughed as they spat their tobacco."

(Tom Paxon, "Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney")

Mississippians need to strive for "more than a measure" of reconcilliation. Thousands of murders of black people speak for themselves. Whenever truth is inserted into the Mississippi Story, it seems that many run for cover (so they won't be exposed) or else try to "represent" Mississippi in a better light.

Trent Lott, at least, isn't so hypocritical that when given the chance he continues to keep the Mississippi spin going. (Does anti-anti lynching equate to pro-lynching? Someone help me, I'm confused).

If a person decides to be the "negotiator" then I do believe they are responsible for what is negotiated. Personally, I'd rather see truth win than just another spin.
* * *

This morning, I was doing some research on the "autopsy" of James Chaney. A New York pathologist came in to examine his body and ended up being reported to the Sovereignty Commission by a Jackson physician ("Dr. Featherstone") as unethical.

The pressure on Mrs. Chaney to refuse permission had been tremendous, Spain wrote. "Philadelphia was against it. Without her, we would never see the body - the authorities in Philadelphia seemed decidedly unfavorable to a second medical examination."

As he was waiting for a decision, Dr. Spain wrote for Ramparts magazine (a Catholic publication) that he leafed through a file of Mississippi reports from field teams of the Medical Committee for Human Rights:

"I had only the stomach to read two of them. The first report described extended treatment given a young negro civil rights wowrker for fifteen or twenty burns scattered all over his body.

"He had been stopped by police in a small Mississippi town for questioning, and while they questioned him they jabbed lighted cigarettes into his flesh. the burns weren't treated, and were ulcerous and infected when the medical volunteers found the boy.

"In another Mississippi town, a medical report said, [the town] had activated a local statute requiring any 'stranger' entering the town to register at police headquarters - as if he were entering a foreign country. The youth in the report had registered, but a policeman insisted that the boy come to the station to "check" his compliance with the statute.

"The boy's name was found on the books. The officer then told him to "run along," and in the same breath swung his billy club into the boy's groin with such force that the youth passed out. Surgery was later necessary to evacuate a blood clot (larger than an orange) created by the blow."

Spain wrote that he was too depressed to read further. "I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of these reports. After conversations with physicians who have lived in Mississippi, I believe that incidents of this nature - with varying degrees of brutality - go on regularly and relentlessly every day of the week, and are too frequent to be considered 'newsworthy.'"

Dr. Spain was finally allowed to examine the young Chaney's corpse, with three Ole Miss physicians present:

"I was immediately struck by how slight and frail this young man was - a thin boy with tender skin. I looked at his wrist, the one that was reported broken in the unofficial examination, and I couldn't find the bullet hole that the newspapers mentioned.

"The wrist was broken, alright. Bones were smashed so badly that his wrist must have been literally flapping when he was carried. But there was no indication of any bullet hole.

"I looked up at the three doctors opposite me. Their faces were stone. I motioned to the wrist - I asked where the bullet hole was.

"One of the stone figures facing me offered a mumbled explanation, something about how Chaney' hand had been across his chest when the first examination was made and the examiner must have mistaken the bullet holes in his chest for one in the hand.

"I looked at him in amazement, but our eyes never met. During the remainder of the examination, not another word was spoken."

Spain noticed that...Chaney's jaw was "completely shattered, split vertically, from some tremendous force" ...that he "had been beaten in an unhuman fashion. The blows that had so terribly shattered his bone - I surmised he must have been beaten with chains, or a pipe - were in themselves sufficient to cause death.

"It was...impossible to say if he had died before he was shot- the bullets had been removed in the first autopsy, and the bullet tracks had been carefully excised so I could not trace the path of the bullets."

Further, the skull was crushed from another direct blow..."I could barely believe the destruction to these frail young bones.

"In my twenty-five years as a pathologist and medical examiner, I have never seen bones so severely shattered, except in tremendously high speed accidents or airplane crashes.

"It was obvious to any first-year medical student that this boy had been beaten to a pulp."
* * *

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity of meeting C.W. Robberson at THE memorial service who told me that Mississippi is just hard for outsiders to understand. She, herself, is often embarrassed, she admitted, by how some white faculty at Ole Miss talk about blacks when only Mississippi white folks are around. She spoke of a Negerian attorney who applied for a federally funded spot with a NOAH-funded project.

The department chair decided against him (even though the rest of the faculty voted for him). And that was that! One woman faculty member argued with the chairman and eventually left the program out of disgust and concern for her own career, C. W. said.

That's sad. Maybe Ole Miss could use some internal "negotiating" itself rather than sending out its minions to fix the "problems" in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

When his Mississippi job was completed, Dr. Spain returned home. "I felt an irrational, immediate urge to get out of Mississippi the fastest way possible. The first plane out went the wrong way from New York - to New Orleans - but I felt an indescribable relief when I boarded it and flew - I guess you could say I almost fled - from Jackson."

The "unofficial" autopsy report made shortly after the discovery of the bodies remained the only public document on the death, according Ramparts editors. "The Coroner's Jury of Neshoba County ruled several months after the murders that the caue or causes of death of the three boys could not be officially determined. Therefore the Coroner's Jury had no reason to ask the District Attorney to seek an indictment from the Grand Jury. An official autopsy report has never been made."

Do we wonder why there is so much community support in Philadelphia to take control of the annual memorial service for Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman...

"James Chaney your body exploded in pain,
and the beating they gave you is pounding my brain.

But they murdered much more with their dark, bloody chains,And your body of pity lies bleeding."

Tom Paxon, "Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney")

("Now this song makes sense. At first this stanza seemed out of context". Fred Klopfer, social psychologist)

Susan Klopfer

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo


  • I assume all blog related email is okay to publish, unless you tell me otherwise.

    Send me email:

    minorjive at gmail dot com

    The views expressed on this site are mine, and those of my guest authors, and do not represent my employer, Physicians for Human Rights.


  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from BenTG. Make your own badge here.

  • Google

    Search the Web
    Search HungryBlues


Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 03/2004