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Reinterpretation of the trauma of the white supremacy of the 1960s – FOX 40 WICZ TV

Analysis by Brandon Tensley, CNN

It’s no leap to say that Jerry Mitchell’s new book “Race Against Time: A Reporter reopens the unsolved murder cases of the civil rights era” is a piece of horror in real life. After all, as the subtitle suggests, it is not limited only to the dead but to how, for decades, the normalized bigotry of the 60s that killed so many innocent Americans has largely gone unpunished, in turn persecuting those desperate even for a minimum of justice.

Yet “Race Against Time” is more than a book about the past. Talk today, coming at a time when history and its repetitions are very much in the minds of Americans.

Days after the book was published, for example, more than 100 masked white nationalists marched through Washington’s National Mall, singing “Reclaim America!” and “Life, freedom, victory!” The march was without events. But it was one of many such shows after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 to illuminate the return of white nationalism in the country’s public spaces.

Coinciding with Black History Month, I recently spoke with Mitchell, who after more than three decades at The Clarion-Ledger started and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, on “Race Against Time” and how his stories insinuate themselves. in the current political season.

Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley; Medgar Evers; James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner; Vernon Dahmer. Over the course of 400 pages, Mitchell revisits, in diaristic detail, the four known cases of violence by Ku Klux Klan who stole these lives and his efforts – dating back to the 1980s, when he was a new journalist in Mississippi – – to put some of the responsible men behind bars. The following conversation has been slightly modified in length and clarity.

You have written cold cases of the mid-century civil rights era since the 1980s when you were a junior journalist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. What attracted you to these stories?

The injustice of all this really made me angry. More than 20 Klansmen were involved in the killing of three young civil rights workers – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – and none were ever tried for murder. I could not wrap our heads: Wait a minute. I have heard of people getting away with a murder, but a triple murder?

But it wasn’t just that these guys ran away with a murder. It was also the fact that everyone He knew that I got away with a murder. It was an injustice in plain sight.

In “Race Against Time”, you describe how a projection of the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning” which is vaguely based on the murders of these three young people, has also fueled your journalistic work. I saw the movie for the first time while I was preparing for this interview and –

Oh, you saw it! What did you think?

Well, I really like two elements: the acting, in particular the performance of Frances McDormand, and the way in which the film recreates the pure terror of the Ku Klux Klan, the distinct code of silence that has allowed the group to operate with impunity. That said, it’s the exact type of civil rights film that Hollywood still makes today, in the way it gives white people more time and screen size involved in the fight. Have your thoughts changed from that initial vision?

I saw it again a few years ago and I remember hearing that there are parts that hold up and parts that don’t. You have to understand that when I saw the movie for the first time, I didn’t know anything about that story. So it was very powerful and visceral. I don’t think anyone left that movie at the time without being interested. They wondered: how did these guys not get accused of murder? And I think it was a legitimate question.

You played an important role in the reopening of the murder cases against some of America’s most notorious killers, including former imperial wizard Ku Klux Klan Sam Bowers. Did this work change the way you view journalism?

On the one hand, I was influenced by the 1974 books by journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward “All the President’s Men”, which talks about the Watergate scandal. I read it on my journey to become an investigative journalist. After reading that book and when I started digging in these cases, I started to see the power of journalism to make positive changes.

On the other hand, at the time, I was not thinking about my work on any type of large scale. I saw it in terms of what was to be known and what was to happen, so I kept peeling off several layers.

I soon realized that this is important, and so I started saving money. I saved my notes and magazines, and whatever type of conversation I had with anyone, I wrote it down. So, in that way, it was strangely historic, but playing in the present – it’s the story as you are living. I don’t know if it happens very often. I wrote the book in such a way that readers learn while I’m learning. I practically start out as a blank slate, so readers join my character as he understands things.

One thing that struck me while reading “Race Against Time” was the apparent benevolence of the FBI, which I didn’t expect, given the historical relationship of the FBI with black Americans: touching the phones, subverting the activities of the civil rights leader. Today we hear new conversations about distrust in the government, especially when it comes to policing and surveillance of minority communities. Did writing about these civil rights cases complicate your understanding of the FBI?

I was in conflict because the history of the FBI is very mixed. Some members have been helpful to me, but it’s important to remember what the FBI has done over the years. For example, J. Edgar Hoover, who was the first director of the FBI, hated the civil rights movement and tried to extinguish it. And so, oddly enough, part of what the FBI was doing – how to spy on and try to discredit figures like Martin Luther King Jr. – the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which sought to preserve racial segregation and contributed to the death of 1964 the three civil rights workers were also doing it. Know everything that provides a crucial perspective.

Speaking of perspective, how history lives in the present – how it can be made urgent or rejected – is one of the themes of the book. What echoes of the past you see when you look around today?

See the rise, once again, of white nationalism. And you can’t help but notice, once you begin to understand the story, that any kind of turnaround for American blacks seems to be fulfilled, to some degree, with a white game. For example, Red Summer occurred in 1919, after black veterans returned from WWI and there was growing job competition. Before then, you had the reconstruction, in response to which you had the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the bloody quest to regain white power.

Recently, there have been equally intentional efforts (to maintain a racial hierarchy). In 2015, Dylann Roof killed nine black worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina. It was partly motivated by the Council of Conservative Citizens website, which has roots in the White Citizens’ Councils in Mississippi.

What made you want to start the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting? And what role do you see in today’s political environment?

Mississippi needs more investigative reports, not less. And that’s the type of reporting that can help bring about social and political change. Think about prisons, for example. Since last year, I have studied prisons in the state, the crisis that is happening. It is a whole hidden world. Basically we warned the state that prisons were about to explode, and that’s what happened. Now it has to do with the consequences.

But that’s why it’s important that we do these things. If we hadn’t done this report and the situation had exploded, I think people would have asked: Well, what happened? But since we made the report, there is no mystery about what happened. This is precious.

I think the tendency of governments is to run away from transparency. And this is one of the reasons why what we do is so important: we want to increase transparency. We want to let the public know what’s going on at the most basic level. We want to be proactive rather than reactive, which is one of the benefits of investigative reporting. Even when you don’t pay attention to a problem, you can say, hey, we shouldn’t get away from it.

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