Mississippi Burning Case Closed After 52 Years

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman
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Mississippi officials have decided to close the investigation into the killings of three young civil rights organizers by the Ku Klux Klan, more than five decades after the young men disappeared, NPR reports.

According to the report, the case had been closed for decades but was later reopened after public outcry. Now officials have decided that they've done everything possible.


"It's just gotten to the point that it's 52 years later and we've done all we can do," Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said Monday.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner disappeared exactly 52 years ago on June 21, 1964, after working to register black voters at a church that had been the target of Ku Klux Klan violence the week before.


After leaving the church, "they had a run-in with local authorities, they were arrested, they were put in jail—and shortly after they were released they went missing," NPR notes.

After a 44-day search, the bodies of the three young men were found. At first, during the search, Mississippi officials called their disappearance a "hoax."


"At the time, Mississippi officials were calling it a hoax devised to garner sympathy for the civil rights movement," NPR's Debbie Elliot noted.

"The bodies were then found buried in an earthen dam off a remote country road," Elliot added. "They had been shot to death."


No one was prosecuted for the deaths, which years later inspired the 1980s film Mississippi Burning. While a few men served sentences on federal civil rights charges, the KKK mob that killed the three men never faced legal consequences.

Decades later, Mississippi reopened the case and one man, Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted of manslaughter. Killen, 91, is currently serving a 60-year sentence. Since Killen's conviction 11 years ago, no other suspects have been tried. On Monday, Hood closed the case, saying that further prosecution is unlikely.


Closing the case, Hood said, "sort of closes the chapter on an era that we didn't want to have in public view. We were ashamed of that."

"The state was complicit in so much of the violence. It encouraged racism and participated in it," Schwerner's widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, told NPR, pointing to the fact that Mississippi leaders today still refuse to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state flag. "The state refuses to acknowledge and make amends for its racist past and role in the terror."


Read more at NPR.

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