Justice in Mississippi
The Murder Trial of Edgar Ray Killen
The slaying of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964 was a notorious event documented in Howard Ball's 2004 book Murder in Mississippi. Now Ball revisits that grisly crime to tell how, four decades later, justice finally came to Philadelphia.
Originally tried in 1967, Baptist minister and Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was set free because one juror couldn't bring herself to convict a preacher. Now Ball tells how progressive-minded state officials finally re-opened the case and, forty years after the fact, enabled Mississippians to reconcile with their tragic past.
“Ball examines this multifaceted story and makes two important arguments. First, he maintains that the Killen trial demonstrates the changing nature of Mississippi race relations. Second, that the conviction represents a watershed in state race relations. He persuasively states that without ‘justice—even justice delayed—there can be no reconciliation of the races in Neshoba County and in Mississippi.’”
—Journal of Southern History
“Tells an important and inspiring story. . . . A superb blend of keen observations and intriguing eyewitness accounts.”
—H-LawSee all reviews...
“This book, a superb blend of keen observations and intriguing eyewitness accounts, should be consulted by anyone who tries to understand Mississippi’s unfinished journey of remembrance, redemption, and reconciliation—a journey which will not cease until, as Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed in 1963, ‘justice rolls down like waters.’”
“Ball’s narrative unfolds easily and without effort, in a way that any good investigative reporter would tell the story.. . . Justice in Mississippi should remind us that the sordid history of race discrimination in the United States is not necessarily dead, nor even in the past.”
—Law and Politics Book Review
“An electrifying, epic American saga of tragedy and transfiguration: the 40-year journey of Mississippi from homicidal police state to crucible of justice. Ball’s authoritative account is peopled with a rich constellation of characters, from demonic Klansmen to determined Mississippi heroes to the shining spirits of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, holding the vision of an America filled with goodness, love, and victory. . . . ‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ said Martin Luther King Jr., ‘but it bends toward justice.’”
—William Doyle, author of An American Insurrection: James Meredith and the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962
A fine companion to Ball’s Murder in Mississippi that provides excellent insights into the disturbing episode of man’s inhumanity to man that he so superbly chronicles.—See fewer reviews...
The second trial of 80-year-old "Preacher" Killen, who was convicted by a unanimous jury, took place in June 2005, with the verdict delivered on the forty-first anniversary of the crime. Ball, himself a former civil rights activist, attended the trial and interviewed most of the participants, as well as local citizens and journalists covering the proceedings.
Ball retraces the cycle of events that led to the resurrection of this "cold case," from the attention generated by the film Mississippi Burning to a new state attorney general's quest for closure. He reviews the strategies of the prosecution and defense and examines the evidence introduced at the trial-as well as evidence that could not be presented-and also relates first-hand accounts of the proceedings, including his unnerving staring contest with Killen himself from only ten feet away.
Ball explores the legal, social, political, and pseudo-religious roots of the crime, including the culture of impunity that shielded from prosecution whites who killed blacks or "outside agitators." He also assesses the transformation in Mississippi's life and politics that allowed such a case to be tried after so long. Indeed, the trial itself was a major catalytic force for change in Mississippi, enabling Mississippians to convey a much more positive national image for their state.
Ball's gripping account illuminates all of this and shows that, despite racism's long stranglehold on the Deep South, redemption is not beyond the grasp of those who envision a more just society.