One of the themes of this blog is the pressing need to look not only at who pulled the trigger in decades old Civil Rights Era murders but also to look more broadly at how institutions, people in positions of power and others in the broader society enabled or encouraged the countless crimes against African Americans and their allies.
Jerry Mitchell's journalism does both.
In the video above, Jerry discusses with Stephen Colbert some of the murderers his reporting has helped to put away. In their discussion, Jerry also touches on the corruption that he exposed in the handling of the two 1964 Byron De La Beckwith trials that ended in mistrials. Jerry exposed that the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was aiding Beckwith's defense while the state was prosecuting him. The Sovereignty Commission was the spy agency established by the Mississippi State Legislature in 1956 to monitor and oppose civil rights activity. The Commission's files were declassified in 1998 and are available online.
This week Jerry has published a remarkable article adding substantial new evidence that former US Senator James O. Eastland (D-MS) had strong ties with the Ku Klux Klan and played a significant role in helping Klansmen escape convictions for their alleged roles in the Neshoba County murders of the three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
Informants told the FBI that Eastland met with Klan leaders and courted the Klan's vote in his 1966 re-election race. The senator also talked with suspects in the Neshoba County case, including then-Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and defense lawyers, getting updates on the case.
In 1965, U.S. District Judge Harold Cox of Jackson - whose appointment to the bench Eastland engineered - threw out the indictments of all the suspects, except Rainey and his deputy, Cecil Price.
An FBI memo said Eastland, who was a college buddy of Cox, "has been taking credit for the federal government dropping charges against those indicted in the Neshoba County slayings."
According to the FBI, Rainey penned a letter saying, "I know for a fact that James O. Eastland helped prevent the trial of 16 other men."
On March 28, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the indictments.
A "prominent local Klansman" in Meridian told the FBI that Eastland had appeared at a rally in Forest and invited Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers to speak with him: "Eastland stated that he would help the 17 defendants in the Neshoba County case and that he has been 'pulling strings for them.'"
Jerry's article also discusses soon to be published writings and statements by Killen, as well as other evidence, elaborating on the Klansman's alleged ties to his US Senator.
Eastland grew up in Hillsboro and was buried in Eastern Cemetery in Forest.
Killen, who grew up in neighboring south Neshoba County, said he developed a relationship with Eastland after becoming friends with Leander Perez, an arch-segregationist in Louisiana.
Documents from the Eastland papers at the University of Mississippi show Eastland and Perez shared information on purported communists.
Ellis told the FBI that Killen said his work for Eastland was "to stop the communist Jews or their soldiers."