Today is a good day to talk about Edgar Ray Killen, the unapologetic racist who was responsible for killing three civil rights workers in Mississippi back in 1964.
Sadly, there were many Dylann Roof types back then, and he was just one of them.
Today he sits in jail after finally being convicted of that terrible crime.
"And he steadfastly refuses to discuss the “Freedom Summer” slayings of three civil rights workers, which sparked national outrage, helped spur passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and landed him behind bars.
Killen was interviewed by the Associated Press inside the Mississippi state penitentiary, where he is serving a 60-year sentence; it was his first interview since his conviction on state charges of manslaughter in 2005, 41 years to the day after James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were killed and buried in a red clay dam. An earlier trial in 1967, on federal charges, resulted in a mistrial.
Killen wouldn’t say much about the 1964 killings. He said he remains a segregationist who does not believe in race equality but contends he bears no ill will toward blacks.
The three civil rights workers – black Mississippian Chaney and white New Yorkers Schwerner and Goodman – were investigating the burning of a black church outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, when they were stopped on an accusation of speeding and held for hours in the Neshoba County jail. Witnesses testified that Killen rounded up carloads of Klansmen to intercept the three men upon their release and helped arrange for a bulldozer to hide the bodies.
The bodies were found 44 days later, buried miles away in a red-clay dam." [Source]
It's important to remember this monster because now, 50 years later, the kind of hate that drove him and others to do what they did , is still permeating throughout certain segments of the country.
Over the past few days at least six black churches have been burned to the ground, and we are all collectively sticking our heads in the sand as if it didn't happen.
Were it not for black twitter (shout out to the #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches? movement) these stories would be getting even less publicity than they are now. It's sad, but the story has to actually get worse before the producers at cable news networks will have the courage to put stories like this front and center.
Look, we get it, a lot of Americans have Negro fatigue, so stories about black churches being burned to the ground just won't get their attention. It's just too depressing to think that the country we love and cherish is going through this. Heck we are just getting over what happened in Charleston for crying out loud. Leave us alone!!!
Field, you don't even go to church, why do you care so much about these churches burning?
Because I understand the importance and historical significance of the church in the black community. And because church folks are such a forgiving bunch that I am sure that whoever is doing this will get nothing but love and another cheek from my church going brothers and sisters.
"Chaney’s sister, the Rev Julia Chaney Moss of Willingboro, New Jersey, said she was not surprised Killen wouldn’t talk about the slayings.
“I can only wish Mr. Killen peace at this juncture in his life ... If he can achieve a modicum of peace, I wish that for him,” Chaney said."
See what I mean?
Anyway, I sure hope that Rev. Julia and others at least believe in Proverbs 20:22.
~Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!" Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you.~
Hurry Lord, we are getting tired of waiting.
I grew up poor with a single mom. I moved to one side of the country and back; as the new kid, I was a frequent target of bullies. I had an abusive relationship with a stepfather. From early high school, the income from my after-school jobs covered our family's monthly shortfall.
I waited tables all through college, my bank account hovering just above zero. No one showed me the ropes, and I mostly figured out on my own what it meant to be a man.
Don't tell me I had it easy.
On the other hand...
Although my mom struggled to make ends meet, my broader family was financially comfortable. Attending college was so embedded in my childhood context that I don't ever recall considering that I wouldn't go. And while I was poorer than some of my college friends who received a monthly check from their parents, my scrappy work ethic was supplemented by no less than five different sources of extended family financial support.
I had a lot of help climbing over some of the hurdles in my path.
So was I "privileged"? Hell, no (okay, maybe a little).
Calling me privileged implies I didn't earn what I've created. That it was easy for me. That's not my experience. I got where I am with blood, sweat and tears. Telling me otherwise (especially with a charged word like 'privilege') just makes me defensive. I don't want to appear elitist, arrogant, selfish, or like an exploiter. Combine it with "white privilege" and I'm a quasi-bigot.
Except that's not what women and people of color are talking about.
We are talking past each other
The real issue is one of obstacles. Moving up the socioeconomic ladder in America involves leaping over certain hurdles: poverty, the color of your skin, the education level of your parents, if they are immigrants, where you live, how good the public school system is, if anyone in your context has gone to college before, whether your parents read to you at night, are you male or female. The list goes on and on. The more obstacles you face, the more challenging upward mobility becomes.
The breakdown in our public dialogue begins with our inchoate perception of these obstacles: We see the ones we confronted; we simply aren't aware of those we didn't.
Instead of the "special rights and benefits" of privilege, let's talk about the "absence of obstacles." As a white male from an educated, single parent, mostly middle class family, I had more obstacles than a rich kid raised by two parents and sent to private schools. On the other hand, I'm not black, a woman, or from an inner city with a broken school system. In this sense, I benefited not from privilege, but from an absence of several very challenging obstacles.
I don't want to feel guilty (because I had it easy) or prideful (because I had it harder than you). I'm not interested in yelling matches about who is right, who is wrong, and whether white privilege is reverse racism. All that is a diversion.
I am grateful for the obstacles I was spared without thinking I'm superior to those who weren't. I am curious about and respectful of the obstacles others faced without needing to deny their difficulty because it makes me feel less worthy.
The great cost of our addiction to labeling and being right over each other is that it distracts us from moving towards what (I believe) we most want: a society where people from every rung of the ladder can receive the support, and learn the gumption, to overcome the obstacles on their path.
Be the starting point of dialogue, not diversion:
- Notice how you get defensive. When we feel criticized, accused or devalued, we lash out, typically in ways that cause others to feel mistreated. Defending your position creates no progress.
- Actively seek out what you don't know you don't know. It's not your fault you didn't encounter certain obstacles. Be grateful. But also be curious about the challenges that people not like you had to overcome.
- Embrace your own obstacles. When I look back at my life, my most meaningful accomplishments were my most difficult obstacles. I can feel jealous that others had fewer, or I can embrace the growth that my next obstacle is offering me.
- Expand your empathy. Suffering and difficulty aren't a competition (neither is success, by the way). Acknowledging what others have gone through can inspire our own courage and commitment to growth.
- Focus your energy on obstacle busting. For both yourself and others, acknowledge the vulnerability we feel when we face a daunting challenge. Create a context where people feel safe and inspired to go for broke.