A Crescendoing Choir From the Graveyards of History
After a Mississippi grand jury indicted the 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen in January for the killings of three civil rights workers in 1964, his trial was described as the last in a series of reckonings over the unpunished wrongs of the era.
But just when the dredging up of the past was supposed to be ending, it seems to have begun in earnest. Prosecutors, politicians and the descendants of victims are digging at ever more obscure cases, calling for re-examinations even when the cases have been reviewed before, or when the prime suspects are long dead. A "racial 'Groundhog Day,' " the historian Michael Eric Dyson calls it, after the movie about a weatherman forced to relive the worst day of his life until he becomes a better person.
Since Mr. Killen's conviction in June, the United States attorney in Mississippi has announced that he will review the 1964 slayings of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, two young hitchhikers in Franklin County, and the fatal 1967 car bombing in Natchez of Wharlest Jackson, who had been promoted to a traditionally whites-only job.
In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush has ordered a review of the case of Johnnie Mae Chappell, a black maid killed in by four men in a drive-by shooting during a race riot in 1964, and the state attorney general, who hopes to succeed Mr. Bush as governor, has offered a $25,000 reward for information about the deaths of Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore, whose house was bombed in 1951 after Mr. Moore helped blacks register to vote. A bill in Congress would set aside money for investigations of old civil rights cases.
The focus on the past is not limited to the courts. It has included a lynching re-enactment and a Senate apology for failure to outlaw lynching, a posthumous pardon for a black woman executed after a one-day trial in 1944, Ku Klux Klan members speaking at a "truth and reconciliation" hearing and whites apologizing to blacks at a church service.
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