Klan Murders Divide Mississippi County Four Decades Later: Film

Edgar Ray Killen exits the court after his trial in the documentary film "Neshoba: The Price of Freedom." The trial took place 41 years after the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Source: First Run Features via Bloomberg

In 1964, 17-year-old Micki Dickoff asked her father if she could travel from their South Florida home to Mississippi to help register black voters. He said it was too dangerous.

“He grew up in the Mississippi Delta, in the only Jewish family in town,” Dickoff said in a phone interview. “He knew all about discrimination and he was worried about my safety.”

His fear was justified. That summer, three young civil-rights workers -- white New Yorkers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and black Mississippian James Chaney -- were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Dickoff, now a documentary filmmaker, looks back at the case and how it still reverberates through the county where the murders took place in “Neshoba: The Price of Freedom.” The powerful movie, co-directed by Tony Pagano, is vivid proof of William Faulkner’s adage that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Although the killers bragged about the murders, state officials refused to prosecute anyone for the crime. Seven men were later convicted on federal charges of violating the victims’ civil rights, but one of the ringleaders, preacher Edgar Ray Killen, avoided prison when a single juror held out against his conviction.

Racist Preacher

The film features new interviews with members of the victims’ families -- including the mothers of Goodman and Chaney and Schwerner’s widow -- and longtime Neshoba residents divided over how to deal with the darkest chapter of their county’s history. Yet Killen, now 85, grabs the spotlight with his unrepentant racist views, his unconvincing denial of any involvement in the murders and his “they had it coming” attitude toward the slain young men.

Killen agreed to talk to the filmmakers even though the state, after four decades of inaction, had finally charged him with the murders that inspired the dramatic movie “Mississippi Burning.” He continued to spout his nonsense on camera until he was convicted of three manslaughter counts on June 21, 2005 --41 years to the day after the killings -- and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Almost as disturbing as Killen are the Neshoba residents who criticize the prosecution for reopening old wounds. They seem more concerned about dredging up Mississippi’s racist past than punishing those responsible for three brutal, cold-blooded murders. (Several of the suspected killers will probably never be prosecuted for murder because of weaker evidence.)

But the film, which includes archival news footage, family photos and a soundtrack of 1960s protest songs, does offer hope. Killen will surely die behind bars, the victims’ families have received a small measure of justice and, partly due to the bravery of people like Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, a black man now calls the White House home.

“Neshoba: The Price of Freedom,” from First Run Features, is playing in Los Angeles. Rating: ***


A nostalgic coming-of-age story about the roller-coaster relationship between two young neighbors from 1957 to 1963, Rob Reiner’s “Flipped” sinks under the weight of its dogged sincerity.

When Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli (Madeline Carroll) meet as second-graders, she’s smitten and he’s skeptical. As the years pass, their roles are reversed. Juli, a stubborn iconoclast who refuses to descend from the top of her favorite tree to prevent landscapers from chopping it down, begins to see Bryce as shallow and small-minded. Bryce, meanwhile, learns to appreciate Juli’s independence and creativity.

Everly Brothers

Told through alternating narrations by Bryce and Juli, “Flipped” includes period touchstones like TV’s “Bonanza,” crewcuts and songs by the Everly Brothers, the Drifters and the Chiffons. It also has subplots involving Juli’s financially strapped father (Aidan Quinn), Bryce’s wise grandfather (John Mahoney, in the film’s best performance) and Juli’s backyard chicken farm.

“Flipped,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing in New York. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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