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xiii Preface No signs mark the old city jail in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In an incongruous use of space, the building appears to have been renovated into two apartments, and you would not know what it once was if someone did not tell you, or if you did not remember. I myself forgot, although it had been a jail in my lifetime. During December 2006 and January 2007, I walked past that building nearly every day with my dog, and I had forgotten what it was until my dad joined us on our walk one day and reminded me. “That was where they held Schwerner and the others,” he said. The story is engraved in our nation’s collective memory, but the brutality of the crime warrants a retelling, a reminder of what was lost when a group of white men took the lives of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman , and Michael Schwerner in 1964. The three men had traveled from Meridian, Mississippi, to Philadelphia to investigate the Ku Klux Klan’s burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church and the beatings of three church members. While driving through town, they were pulled over by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and taken to the Philadelphia City Jail. They were not allowed to make a phone call and were released without explanation after being held for several hours. On their way back to Meridian, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were driven off the road on Highway 19 by the group of men who would ultimately kill them. Their station wagon was burned, and they were taken to a local white man’s land, where they were shot and buried. Their bodies were found forty-four days later, and local Ku Klux Klan members, including law enforcement officers, have been implicated in their deaths.1 When Rita Schwerner spoke to the nation while her husband, Michael, xiv Reconstituting Whiteness was still missing, she probably knew he was dead. And yet, with steely calm, she pointedly censured the press and the national audience, offering a grim reminder of why Goodman and Schwerner, two very young white men, had come South from the North. If only Chaney had been missing and presumed dead, she argued, no one would have cared, or at least cared as much. Chaney was a very young man as well, but he was black. Footage of James Chaney’s funeral swells with emotion. The packed room is heavy with sadness and grief. But it also surges with anger, expressed through David Dennis’s eulogy, which reminds the audience why the crime, revolting in its premeditation, its methodical organization, and its brutality, was not shocking in its occurrence. It was not a lone act perpetrated by an isolated group of men who were entirely shunned by their local communities. It was an act of violence, like so many acts of violence against black men, women, and children before it, committed by white men who were enmeshed in their communities. While the Klan members who killed Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner used extreme means, they were simply defending what most whites in Mississippi proudly called their “way of life.”2 Dennis, a leader with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Mississippi , said that he blamed not only the men who pulled the trigger but also the government, from the federal to the state level. He blamed those who felt empathy for the movement and for black people, but who remained silent. In the angry aftermath of the murders, Dennis recognized the widespread complicity of the white community. The local whites who remained silent about their knowledge of the crime, the state that failed to bring charges against the murderers, and anyone who accepted or perpetrated the dismissive explanation that civil rights activists themselves were hiding the men to get attention—all were complicit in creating and maintaining a society that denied the humanity of black Mississippians. Whether through violence, denial, silence, or resistance, such complicity worked to deny black citizens full participation in society and affirm white control of economic, cultural, and political resources. In the decades since, it has come to light that the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC), an agency created by the Mississippi legislature in 1956, was complicit in the deaths of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. The MSSC was largely a public relations and informationgathering agency. Its policy was not to intervene at the county or city level but to make recommendations when asked about how to confront Preface xv unwelcome intrusions or challenges...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826516879
Related ISBN
9780826516855
MARC Record
OCLC
709606132
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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