It is much easier to confront the racism of the 1960s than the racial and economic injustices of today.
While I’m happy that racist vigilantes such as Edgar Ray Killen have finally been called upon to pay for their crimes, we have work to do in the here and now.
Killen’s conviction is one of several historical reckonings.
In 1994, Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of murdering civil-rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963. Then, just last year, the FBI reopened the 1955 Emmett Till case after finding that as many as 10 more people may have been involved in his abduction and murder. And now Killen will likely go to prison for the rest of his life for his part in the brutal 1964 murders of civil-rights activists Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
These murder cases stayed unsolved for decades, and their resolution may give some sense of closure to the long-suffering families of the victims. But these triumphs are largely symbolic. By congratulating ourselves too much for them, we risk neglecting the challenges of the present.
”There’s justice for all in Mississippi,” state Attorney General James Hood said after the Killen conviction.
But the reality on the ground belies Hood’s rosy scenario. The lives of black Mississippians, 41 years after the civil-rights murders of 1964, are still mired in poverty and inequality.
Yes, there are black elected officials now, but the economic prospects for black people — and many whites — is grim. The state suffers one of the nation’s highest illiteracy rates. More than 38 percent of the state’s black families live in poverty, in contrast to 14 percent of whites, according to the Kaiser Foundation. This doesn’t sound like justice to me.
Killen and his ilk carried out their crimes under white hoods and the darkness of night.