Meridian Star

Columns

July 1, 2006

A chance for Meridian

There is a dark shadow in the story of Meridian, one darker than perhaps all others, a community shadow that has grown long for more than 40 years. Ironically, the shadow is also an opportunity for community redemption. The Meridian community has the rare opportunity to truly make right a wrong, and in doing so, change its world image.

When the three civil rights workers were killed in 1964, Meridian was cast into an unwanted limelight — namely, ground zero of U.S. civil rights.

At the height of the civil rights movement, 1963-65, three events are considered major cultural landmarks: the 1963 Birmingham church bombing; the 1964 murders of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman; and the 1965 Selma march.

Meridian is, and always will be, a landmark in the U.S. history of civil rights. The limelight is eternal, but Meridian determines what it is that’s in the limelight.

In 1964, Meridianite James Chaney was slaughtered, mutilated, by the fists, boots and bullets of the local Ku Klux Klan. Because he was a black man, he was beaten to a pulp of raw meat. Of the three, it was only James who was tortured and beaten beyond human recognition. Schwerner and Goodman, the white men, were shot, and Chaney was pulverized.

Though the vicious anger that precipitated the slaughter of James Chaney is chillingly inhuman, the 1964 mind of Mississippi would have had it no other way.

Too often, Meridian has responded to its history of racial violence by responding to the limelight, rather than the violence.

In 1964, Mississippi Sen. James Eastland told President Johnson there was no KKK in Meridian, and that the real problem with the disappearance of the civil rights workers was the media. Most other 1964 Mississippi politicians echoed the same, namely, the fault lies with the media — a limelight that won’t go away ...

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