PHILADELPHIA, Miss. Jun 11, 2005 — Hicks. Rednecks. Racists. People who live in this town of 7,300 have heard the epithets slung their way for decades. And many black and white cringe as they anticipate how the world will view their town when reputed Ku Klux Klansman and part-time preacher Edgar Ray Killen goes on trial Monday in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers.It struck me as ironic that they thought people would think ill of them for doing the right thing, so I dashed off this quick letter to the local paper there:
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To: The Neshoba Democrat
I just read the Associated Press piece on the upcoming trial of Edgar Ray Killen which said some residents were concerned it would reinforce stereotypes of the South as racist. It does not. The effect is the exact opposite.
I have lived my entire life in Oregon and California, so my direct knowledge of the South is limited to the occasional segregated prom or confederate flag story in the news, which naturally makes me and many others suspect that white Southerners at best barely tolerate their black neighbors being treated like human beings.
These murder cases from the Civil Rights era reinforce that impression only to the extent that they go unpunished. The trial of Killen and previous trial of the killer of Medgar Evers is a sign that the majority in the South want the wrongs of Jim Crow to be a part of our history not an open wound easily rubbed raw when someone accidentally brushes against it.
What you are doing is something all Americans should be proud of. It's more honorable to see a problem and fix it than to pretend that things are perfect--and always have been. You are setting an example I hope the rest of us follow.