Sociology Mind
2014. Vol.4, No.1, 84-92
Published Online January 2014 in SciRes (
Civil Rights Tourism in Mississippi: Openings, Closures,
Redemption and Remuneration
Ronald Loewe
Department of Anthropology, California State University at Long Beach, Long Beach, USA
Received August 30th, 2013; revi s ed October 22nd, 2013; acc epted November 21st, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Ronald Loewe. T his is an open access article distribute d under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights ©
2014 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Ronald Loewe. All Copyright © 2014
are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
Unlike Georg ia and Alabama which have ha d large civil rights museums f or many years, Mississippi
is just beginning to acknowl edge and memorialize this par t of its histor y. Since 2005, visitors to Ne-
shoba County, infamous for the murder of civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, have
been able to obtain copies of the African-American Heritage Driving Tour which directs tourists to nine
points of interest associated with the 1964 killings. In examining this development, my aim is to
highlight the diverse political, economic and psychological motives underlying civil rights tourism and
the formation of the Philadelphia Coalition which came together to commemorate the 40th anniversary of
the m urders. In specific, this paper argue s that civil rights tourism rests on four conv ergent trends: 1)
the interest of the business community in re-imaging Mississippi, 2) the formation of a fragile alliance
between white conservatives and moderate African-American leaders, 3) the search for redemption
among white Ch ristian s, and 4) a growin g concern o ver who w ill write M ississ ippi’s recent hi story.
Keywords: Tourism; Civil Rights; Politics of Memory; Race
Alabama was dangerous enough, but traveling through Mis-
sissippi would be even worse, Kennedy declared, facetiously
reminding Shuttlesworth that even the Lord hasnt been to
Mississippi in a long time.” Never one to miss a preaching op-
portunity, Shuttlesworth shot back: “But we think the Lord
should go to Mississippi, and we want to get him there.” (Ray-
mond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for
Racial Justice, p. 206).
Touring the rest of Goat Hill, I kept encountering the same
startling juxtaposition. A plaque beside the capitol identified
the statehouse as both the home of the first Confederate Con-
gress and the end point of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights
march in 1965. Just a few paces away stood the Dexter Avenue
Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor
in the 1950s and helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott. On
the street outside stood two plaques. One noted that Dexter
Avenue was the site of Jeff Daviss inaugural parade: “Dixie
was played as a band arrangement for the first time on this
occasion.” The other plaque told of the Dexter Church and the
bus boycottAt times, this proximity of black and white icons
became a bit strange (Tony Horowitz, Confederates in the Attic,
p. 356).
Introduction: From Civil War to Civil Rights
Civil War tourism in the South is legendary. In addition to
visiting the Vicksburg National Military Park with its 1325 his-
toric monuments, its twenty miles of reconstructed trenches,
and its 14 4 canons, o ne can now take a virtual, online t our of
the ground s and sto p at any of the 23 me mori al s that ha ve be e n
photographed and archived. One can also follow the site index
to a detailed teacher’s guide that contains numerous math pro-
jects as well as a variety of social studies assignments. For ex-
ample, under the heading “Killing Commanders” students in
grades four through twelve are asked to evaluate a general’s
performance based on the rate of fatalities in his unit.
In contrast, civil rights tourism is far younger and less deve-
loped; nevertheless, since 2005, visitors to the Community De-
velopment Partnership in Philadelphia, Mississippi have been
able to pick up copies of the handsomely designed African-
American Heritage Driving Tour next to promotional literature
for the Neshoba County Fair and the Choctaw Indian Fair. The
twelve-page driving tour guide is not only packed with infor-
mation about important African-Americans from the Philadel-
phia area, but contains a map and description of nine points of
interest related to Freedom Summer and the murder of three
civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and An-
drew Goodman, in 1964. For example, one can follow the map
to the former Neshoba County jail where the civil rights work-
ers were held briefly the night of the killings, the Bogue Chitto
Swamp, where the burnt shell of Michael Schwerner’s station
wagon was discovered, and the Mount Zion Methodist Church,
a center of civil rights activity which was torched by the Ku
Klux Klan on June 16, 19641. The Church was rebuilt in 1966,
and now hosts a memorial service to the slain civil rights work-
ers each year in June.
More recently, the Mississippi Development Authority’s
Tourism Division has opened the Mississippi Freedom Trail
which links twenty-five sites associated with the civil rights
movement. These include several important sites unveiled dur-
ing a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the freedom
rides in 2011: 1) a marker by the Bryant store in Money, Mis-
sissippi where the young Emmett Till was killed in 1955, 2) the
home of Medgar Evers, the NAACP field secretary killed in
front of his home by a sniper in 1963, and 3) the Greyhound
bus station in Jackson, where the freedom riders disembarked
and were promptly arrested for trying to desegregate the termi-
nal’s all white bathrooms.
Although I had lived in Mississippi since August of 2000, it
was not until the summer of 2005 when I agreed to cover the
trial of Edgar Ray Killen, the Klansman accused and now con-
victed of masterminding the killings of the three civil rights
workers, that I began to notice a concerted effort to publicize
and memorialize the lives of its civil rights heroes. In fact, two
years before, I was not even aware of the annual memorial held
for the civil rights workers at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church.
Quite by chance I came across a small notice in the Starkville
Daily News announcing a memorial service to mark the 39th
anniversary of the killings, and decided to take my kids down
for a history lesson.
Entering Philadelphia along Route 16 was pleasant and easy,
but would certainly be surprising to visitors who expect the
backwoods town depicted in Mississippi Burning. Signs of
modernity abound. Indeed, the first thing that drivers see
emerging from the verdant hills of Neshoba County is a large
billboard announcing Geyser Falls, a new, 15-acre water park
with 13 water slides. A few miles down the road is the monu-
mental Gold Moon Casino, one of two casinos run by the Mis-
sissippi Band of Choctaw and home to 4700 Vegas-style slot
machines (Loewe & Hoffman, 2005). Like many American
towns, the original town square has been hurt by the develop-
ment of commercial strips lined with fast food restaurants and
chain stores, but even here signs of newness could be found.
Across from the newly remodeled courthousesite of several
historic trialssits The Coffee Bean, a stylish internet café
where one can order lattes and deli sandwiches. And just a few
blocks from the eatery is the Philadelphia historic district where
visitors can admire a collection of Neo-Georgian revival style
homes and several historically significant buildings.
Despite the lack of publicity and audience, the 2003 event
included a rousing call for justice by Leslie McLemore, a polit-
ical science professor from Jackson State (and former member
of the Jackson city council), and a moving speech by William
Winter, a former Governor of Mississippi as well as the founder
of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
(WWIRR)2. Several relatives of the slain civil rights workers
were also in attendance. Still, the event was small enough that
the media—a CBS affiliate from Columbus, MS, the Jackson
Free Press, The Clarion-Ledger, and a few local newspapers,
soon ran out of VIPS and started talking with audience mem-
bers, hoping to figure out why people had traveled so far for a
memorial service.
By the following year, however, the Philadelphia Coalition, a
consortium of business, civic and political organizations, inclu-
ding the local NAACP and the Chamber of Commerce, had
been formed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the kil-
lings and to pressure the State’s Attorney to retry some of the
principals involved in the 1964 murders. Although seven indi-
viduals had been convicted of violating federal civil rights sta-
tutes in 1967 (Mars, 1977), prior to June, 2005, no one had ever
been convicted for the murders of the three activists. An at-
tempt to prosecute Edgar Ray Killen, the “kleagle,” (the KKK
“messenger” to the Grand Dragon), ended in an acquittal be-
cause a lone juror could not bring herself to convict a preacher.
In the end, however, the work of the Philadelphia Coalition
and others paid off. The 40th commemoration not only generat-
ed large audiences at two sites, the Philadelphia Coliseum and
the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, but attracted a wide range of
participants from the conservative Governor of Mississippi, Ha-
ley Barbour, to prominent liberals like David Kendall, now bet-
ter known for defending Bill Clinton during his Senate im-
peachment trial, and many scholars, veterans of the civil rights
movement, and relatives of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney.
The recent emergence of civil rights tourism, of course, rais-
es several interesting questions, not least of which is: why now?
Has the political climate changed so dramatically that things
that were unmentionable a generation ago are now acceptable
topics of public discourse? Or has the symbolism inherent in a
fortieth anniversary, a number of biblical importance, simply
overcome the reluctance to acknowledge uncomfortable memo-
ries of the past? Here, it is worth noting that a similar coalition
was formed on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killings
(1989), and a similar call for justice was issued by then Secre-
tary of State Dick Molpus. In addition, at least one previous At-
torney General, Michael Moore, contemplated prosecuting Ed-
gar Ray Killen (personal communication, Rita Bender, Novem-
ber 15, 2006). In the end, though, Moore failed to follow through,
and Secretary Molphus’s “apology” for the killings in 1989, ac-
cording to one source, only served to undermine his candidacy
for Governor of Mississippi.
1In 1966 the Board of Stewards of the First Methodist Church of Philade
phia, a white church under the leadership of Clay Lee, voted unanimously
to help the Mt. Zion congregation rebuild their church, and eventually en
listed the support of the entire Philadelphia Ministerial Association. Ho
ever, when the Mt. Zion congregation refused to promise that the church
would not be used for civil rights activities, the white community withdrew
its supp o rt . As Florence M ar s writes i n W i t n es s in Philadelphia: “Th e ch ai r
an of the Mt. Zion building committee, Cornelius Steele, told me he firm-
ly refused the package deal to relinquish control of the church in exchange
for white support...
Cornelius told me he didn’t know that would be the last
meeting a nd t hought he would see the men again” (1977: p. 180).
2The William Winter Institute, an affiliate of the University of Mississippi,
was an outgrowth of President Clinton’s 1997 call for a national dialogue
on race relations, better known as One America: The President’s Initiative
on Race. Ol e Mis s, wel l
known for its vio len t res is tan ce to deseg reg ati on i n
1961, agreed to host a town meeting, and was later hailed by the President
for hosting the most successful event of the initiative. That recognition,
according to the WWIRR
website, “encouraged the University to form
lized its dialogue process with the creation of an institute to promote racial
reconciliation and civic renewal.”
( Under the di
rection of Susan Glisson,
the WWIRR was not only instrumental in brin
ing the Philadelphia Coalition together, but has
developed a manual to help
community organizers promote racial reconciliation in their communities,
and is in the process of developing a speakers
bureau, lesson plans for edu
cators who want to teach about the civil right movement, and even a pod-
cast of civil rights driving tours for each county in Mississippi. The
WWIRR was also instrumental in passing Senate Bill 2718 which authoriz-
es the Mississippi Departme
nt of Education to teach civil rights in Missi
sippi schools and creates the Mississippi Civil Rights Commission. “Our
hope,” writes Annette Hollowell (2006:
4), “is that with the advent of this
bill Mississippi educators will leverage Civil Rights (sic) t
opics across s ub
for example, teaching Freedom Songs in music class, discussing SNCC
leader and Algebra Project founder Bob Moses in math class, and incorpo-
rating local historie s into s ocial studies class.”
More importantly, perhaps, who are the key agents or actors
in this public drama? Does the emergence of civil rights tour-
ism reflect a grassroots effort to affect change? Or is it better
seen as a top down effort to change public perceptions of Mis-
sissippi and aid business investment more generally? In this
case, we might ask whether the prosecution of Edgar Ray Kil-
len and the emergence of civil rights tourism, are really one a nd
the same? Here, it is worth noting the Philadelphia Coalition’s
call for justice and the unveiling of its new civil rights’ tour
guide occurred at the same event3. And what role have outsid-
ers played? Is Jim Carrier, the author of a Travelers Guide to
the Civil Rights Movement, correct in his assertion that tourism
has essentially been forced on southern communities? “It’s not
like they put out a sign one day and said, ‘Come on down and
see our civil rights history.’ It’s in response to people coming
down here, lugging big history books, looking for these places.”
(In Dewan, New York Times, August 10, 2004). Or, is it simply,
as the Director of the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
suggests, that all many desperately poor communities “have go-
ing for them is their civil rights history?” In other words, is it at
bottom a question of economic survival?
Because of its diverse make-up, the Philadel phia Coalitio n pro-
vides not only a model for action, but a window onto the com-
plexity and potential difficulties inherent i n civil rights tourism
and education. As I point out below, for example, it is clear that
for some Coaliti on members (and non-coalition activists) the Kil-
len trial, the 40th anniversary of the killings, and the new tour,
represente d an “ope ning” which w ould fi nally reveal untold t ruth s
about local history, and, perhaps, lead to the prosecution of other
Klansmen. Others, however, saw these events as “acts of re-
demption,” and a way of putting “closure” on an event which
has psychologically scared Philadelphia, MS for decades. Still,
others viewe d the formation of the Coalition as a way t o “control
the message” on an occasion when outsiders and the so-called
liberal media would be shining its bright lights on Philadelphia.
While dissident memories (e.g., the views of civil rights vet-
erans) are now moving more into mainstream, memories, as
Steve Stern notes in The Memory Box of Pinochets Chile
(2006: p. 4), do “not unfold in a smooth linear fashion.” nor are
“memory struggles free of divisive internal dynamics within
one or another memory camp.” (Barahona de Brito et al., 2001;
Gordillo, 2004; Stern, 2006; Zubrzycki, 2006). Indeed, not un-
like South Africa, Guatemala, El Salvador, and nations of the
southern cone, I believe Mississippi is now engaged in a con-
tentious struggle over how much of its recent past shall be un-
buried, and who shall tell the story of these times. Here, it is
important to point out that Philadelphia Coalition was ulti-
mately not successful in unifying all civil rights activists or
educators. Indeed, since 2005, there have been two competing
memorials sponsored by members of the Mt. Zion Methodist
Church rather than one, and many former freedom riders and
SNCC activists, including Ben Chaney, the brother of James
Chaney, consider the Philadelphia Coalition to be a sellout.
Mississippi, however, differs in one fundamental respect
from Chile, Guatemala and other nations where the politics of
memory is active and ongoing. While in the former, the para-
meters of the discourse, the key events, time frame, etc., are
well established albeit remembered differently, in Mississippi,
the question is which discourse, which civil conflict, and even,
which century, will occupy the public consciousness. All this,
as Horowitz points out in the opening epigram, can be seen in
the uneasy juxtapositions that abound in Mississippi and other
parts of the south, where street signs mark the intersection of
Jefferson Davis Boulevard with Martin Luther King Drive.
This project is based on standard ethnographic methods: par-
ticipant observation, in-depth interviews with knowledgeable
informants, and archival research. Participant observation be-
gan in 2003 when I attended the 39th commemoration held to
honor the slain civil rights workers, and began to talk with local
civil rights activists and community leaders. I attended this
commemoration for three consecutive years taking detailed
field notes, and collecting commemorative programs and bro-
chures. In June, 2005, I covered the trial of Edgar Ray Killen,
and subsequently wrote a short article on the trial for the
Cleveland Jewish News which is now posted on the Philadel-
phia Coalition website under Coalition News. I also attended
part of the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Living Memorial
Civil Rights Education Summit on June 22, 2005, a teachers
conference sponsored by the William Winter Institute for Ra-
cial Reconciliation, the Philadelphia Coalition, UNESCO’s
Breaking the Silence Project, and the Neshoba Educational
Foundation. Held the day after the Killen verdict was announc-
ed, the conference was intended to help elementary and junior
high school teachers locate pertinent resources and develop
effective strategies for teaching about the civil rights movement.
In total, I interviewed more than twenty individuals including
several employees of the Mississippi Office of Tourism, a
number of civic leaders I met during the Killen trial, the three
Neshoba County tour guides who lead civil rights tours, and
several members of the Philadelphia Coalition.
The third part of the project involved reviewing written do-
cuments on tourism that I obtained through the research divi-
sion of the Mississippi Office of Tourism, and articles on tour-
ism, politics and civil rights in the Neshoba Democrat. Fortu-
nately for me, the latter contains an electronic archive with co-
verage of the Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney killings which
goes back forty years. For historical background I consulted
Raymond Arsenault’s extraordinary history of the civil right
movement, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial
Justice (2006), the files of the Sovereignty Commission (the
official anti-civil rights agency of Mississippi from 1956-1973)
which are available online through the Mississippi Department
of Archives and History (MDAH), and the Civil Rights in Mis-
sissippi Digital Archive at the McCain Library of the Universi-
ty of Southern Mississippi. The latter, also available online,
contains detailed oral histories of dozens of civil rights veter-
Civil Rights Tourism as a Total Social Fact:
Four Faces of a Phenomenon
A. Economics 101: Money Talks
One of the first things that come to mind when people think
of tourism is money, and there is no shortage of journalistic
accounts of southern politicians discussing civil rights tourism
as a new cornucopia for the region. Indeed, in his Pulitzer Prize
See, for example, the videotaped press conference (Video from the Resol
tion Press Conference) on the Philadelphia Coalition website
4The website of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is
ocated at : er/ind ex.html The web
site of the Civil Rights in
Mississippi Digita l Archive is located at:
winning travelogue of the South, Confederates in the Attic:
Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, Tony Horowitz
found several politicians and businessmen willing to speak
bluntly about the bottom line. While Joe Smitherman, the chain
smoking, eight-term mayor of Selma, was reluctant to talk to
him around the civil rights era, except to correct the perception
that Selma police attacked protesters with dogs, he spoke can-
didly of the city’s decision to market the civil rights movement.
“The idea was, what happened at the bridge, we’ve been stig-
matized because of it for so long, why don’t we sell it, too?”
(1998: 365). Similarly, Will Tankersly, former chair of the
Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, explained to Horowitz
that civil rights tourism was not only a way to improve Alaba-
ma’s reputation, but ultimately made good business sense. “The
state is overflowing with resources,” he said, “It’s got a heck of
a work ethic. I want to bring jobs here. But we’ve still got an
image problem. When you’re sitting in a boardroom in New
York and hear about Fruit Loops waving rebel flags down here,
it’s bad for business” (1998, 359).
Echoing this sentiment in Mississippi, Jim Prince III, editor
of the Neshoba Democrat and co-chair of the Philadelphia Coa-
lition, notes the unique convergence between morality, drama
and business in an interview published in The Nation following
the trial of Edgar Ray Killen (Younge, July 11, 2005). “It’s a
captivating story… the dark of night, the Ku Klux Klan, you
know, it’s got all the elements for great drama, but it’s a true
story and a sad story… I tell people if they can’t be behind the
call for justice because it’s the right thing to do, and that ’s first
and foremost, then do it because it’s good for business.” (Ironi-
cally, Prince, an unabashed conservative, later noted that the
remark about business was actually taken from an old Robert F.
Kennedy quote and was an attempt to bridge the gap between
liberals and conservatives (personal communication, January 10,
Although less sanguine about the matter, other members of
the coalition, such as Eva Tisdale, a Mississippi native who
participated in Freedom Summer, agrees that it was the pros-
pect of financial gain that convinced many whites to support the
call for justice. “We organized marches and we marched and
there were no white people marching, not from Philadelphia. So
I know the reason we came together is not the same reason for
all of us” (Younge, July 11, 2005).
In fairness, however, it should be noted that there was no di-
rect return on the five thousand dollars the Philadelphia Commu-
nity Development Partnership invested in the Roots of Struggle
Driving Tour by 2006. According to David Vowell, the Head of
the CDP, the Partnership paid local residents $30.00 to lead the
tour, but didn’t charge visitors who actually took the tour. In
fact, it is difficult to track the economic impact of heritage
tourism, let along civil rights tourism, in Mississippi since there
are currently no reliable measures being kept. While the Office
of Tourism’s fiscal report for 2004 (published in February 2005)
contains entries for gaming and for outdoor recreation, there are
no entries for heritage or cultural tourism. The closest indicator
of this kind of activity is a line item in one of the report’s ap-
pendices that shows revenues from museum visits.
The main que stion at this time was whether the state le gisla-
ture would finally support a civil rights museum, and whether
Philadelphia, MS could capture the project as State Senator,
Gloria Williamson, and many prominent Philadelphia officials
hoped. In short, it was an investment, but ultimately one which
failed to pay a dividend. While the state legislature did finally
vote to fund a civil rights museum after many years of voting
down similar proposals, Philadelphia lost out to Jackson, the
state capitol, despite the CDP’s many small efforts.
While there is little doubt in my mind that economic devel-
opment and the creation of a favorable business climate are
prime movers in the emergence of civil rights tourism, there is
also a danger of overstating the importance of this motive, and
repeating the rather simple equation between tourism and con-
sumption which characterized anthropological writing on tour-
ism in the 1970s (see Greenwood in Gmelch, 2004). Doing so,
in my view, not only ignores the many tangible, if small scale,
efforts at memorializing and honoring civil rights activists in
Mississippi over the last forty years, but very sincere attempts
to educate a new generation of students on civil rights history
and, ultimately, improve race relations.
Although often reluctant to use the term “tourism,” civil
rights workers are clearly interested in preserving the memory
of their work and getting others to see it. At a 2006 commemo-
ration in Longdale, MS, for example, a veteran of the civil
rights movement who maintains an archive in West Point, Mis-
sissippi was distributing handbills announcing that the building
that housed the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in
Jackson, a consortium of civil rights groups, and two adjacent
buildings were being turned into a museum, archive and tourist
attraction, and would be available for educational programs. As
the brochure explains, COFO is “best known for organizing the
1964 Freedom Summer Project that brought over 1000 civil
rights volunteers to Mississippi and spawned the development
of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.”5
It should also be noted that at least one local resident , Nettie
Cox, a retired African-American school teacher, has been lead-
ing unofficial civil rights tours in Neshoba country since the
early 1970s. Each summer, until about 2004, Operation Under-
standing, a mixed group of Blacks and Jews, would send down
as many as 70 high school students from Washington and Phil-
adelphia to learn about Freedom Summer and the Neshoba
County killings. Although Ms. Cox initially felt that working
with the Philadelphia Coalition and the Chamber of Commerce
would be “selling out,” she eventually agreed to work on the
brochure (discussed above), because she was concerned that the
information that she and a cousin had collected would be lost.
“Sometimes,” as Ms. Cox put it, “you catch more bees with ho-
ney than with vinegar… I just tuc k e d my tail and worked on the
brochure (personal communication, June, 2005).” Ms. Cox is
now one of three African-Americans from the Philadelphia area
who accompanies tour buses to points of interest associated
with the 1964 killings.
Indeed, while the Office of Tourism provides the imprimatur
of officialdom or statehood on civil rights tourism, it could be
argued that it has done little more than link a series of monu-
ments which were created by black churches, civil rights activ-
ists and family members. While Mississippi is unarguably be-
hind other southern states in acknowledging and memorializing
key figures of the civil rights movement, there are, nonetheless,
numerous private monuments and a few small public museums.
Among these are the engraved tombstones for Goodman, Sch-
werner and Chaney at both the Mt. Zion Methodist Church
Up until 1964 the Mississippi Democratic Party excluded African-Ame r i
cans from its delegation to the National Democratic Convention. In re-
sponse t o this r acist po licy, th e Missi ssippi Freedom D emocrati c Party hel d
its own primary and later challenged the credentials of the regular state
delegation at the 1964
national convention.
outside Philadelphia, and the Nebo Missionary Baptist Church,
another participant in Freedom Summer, in Philadelphia proper.
There is also a memorial in Lauderdale County, Mississippi
dedicated to James Chaney. In addition, there is a collection of
civil rights memorabilia at Tougaloo College, an historic black
college in Jackson, MS, and a Civil Rights Movement Driving
Tour available through the Jackson Convention Center which
lists various civil rights sites, including the home of Medgar
And, as Jim Carrier remarks in the Travelers Guide to the
Civil Right Movement, there are many other places associated
with the civil rights movement, a movement carried out by
ordinary people, that are either unmarked, increasingly difficult
to find or falling down (2004: 257-264)6.
B. Politics 101: Coalitio n Building an d It s Discontents
While the civil rights trails that link communities throughout
Mississippi, and the many sites along the way, are only possible
because of dozens, if not hundreds, of small acts of preservation,
storage and memorialization, large scale projects and the estab-
lishment of a civil rights museum, scheduled to open in 2017, is
difficult to imagine without the kind of coalition building that
occurred in 2004. In fact, the Philadelphia Coalition, an organ-
ization which brought together moderate African-American
leaders like Leroy Clemons, President of the local NAACP, and
James Young, Head of the Neshoba County Board of Supervi-
sors, with white conservatives like Jim Prince III, the editor of
the Neshoba Democrat, and, ultimately, Haley Barbour, the
Republican Governor of Mississippi, can best be understood as
an historic exchange, both material and symbolic, between a
conservative political elite which had done little to promote
civil rights during the previous 40 years, and a segment of the
African-American community that lacked political clo ut.
“For years,” as Sheila Byrd notes, “black state lawmakers
have introduced bills to jump start planning for a civil rights
museum only to have the legislation die under a cloud of dis-
cussion over cost and expense.” (See “Civil Rights Museum for
State Overdue, Some Say,” April 16, 2006). However things
began to change after Haley Barbour’s attendance at an event
commemorating the 40th anniversary of the murders of Good-
man, Schwerner and Chaney at the Philadelphia Coliseum on
June 20, 2005. In the 2006 legislative session, lawmakers pass-
ed a resolution to create a study group made up of university
professors to look into the feasibility of establishing a civil
rights museum, and on December 19, 2006 the study group re-
commended that a museum be built in Jackson. (See “Jackson
Proposed As Site For Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” Asso-
ciated Press, December 22, 2006). Finally, in April, 2011 the
Mississippi State Legislature approved twenty million dollars to
fund the construction of new museum after Governor Barbour
testified in favor it.
In short, while African-American leaders in the coalition, in-
cluding some veteran civil rights workers, gave legitimacy to
their Republican coalition partners, the forces surrounding Ha-
ley Barbour were able to bring along more conservative legis-
lators who, up until then, had blocked funds for the construction of
a museum. However, the alliance did not come without a heavy
cost. Left in its wake was a bitter split in the Phila d elphia African-
American community leading to two separate commemorations,
one at the historic Mt. Zion Methodist Church and a second at
the Longdale Community Center, and the marginalization of
some of the most dedicated civil right activists of the 1960s.
The events which led to this historic split occurred during the
preparation for the 40th annual memorial for Goodman, Sch-
werner and Chaney. For many years the annual memorial ser-
vice had been held at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Long-
dale, MS; however, the leadership of the Philadelphia Coalition
thought the Mt. Zion location was too small to host an event
that might draw as many as 3000 people, and opened negotia-
tions with the Mt. Zion planning committee to move the event
to the Philadelphia Coliseum, a large sports arena in downtown
Philadelphia. Some church members, however, were not happy
about moving the event. Shirley Nichols, a long-time member
of Mt. Zion is quoted in the Neshoba Democrat as saying “… I
have a problem with them wanting to take the commemoration
downtown … for so long nobody acted like they even knew we
were out here (See “Shirley Nichols Finds a Seat in the Back
Row,” June 24, 2004).
There was also, apparently, a lot of debate about who should
be invited to speak. Ben Chaney, brother of the deceased James
Chaney, was upset that the Philadelphia Coalition had invited
Governor Haley Barbour since the conservative Governor not
only sports a confederate flag on this lapel, but had not endors-
ed the call for justice (e.g., the call to prosecute former Klans-
men). On the other hand, one member of the Philadelphia Coa-
lition complained that a group formed around John Steele, the
son of Mt. Zion’s former minister and civil rights leader Corne-
lius Steele7, kept insisting that more and more speakers be
added to an already lengthy list of dignitaries. Eventually, it
was decided that the memorial service would proceed in two
phases; the first phase, would be held at the Philadelphia Coli-
seum, and the second phase, including the traditional wreath
laying ceremony, would be held at Mt. Zion. Tour buses would
6McComb, Mississippi provides a perfect example. In response to pressure
from the Kennedy administration to end the freedom rides and pursue less
provocative activities like voter registration, Bob Moses, in collaboration
with C.C. Bryant and other local supporters, began a voter registration drive
in the southwestern town of McComb in August 1961, making McComb
the beachh ead o f a new civ il r ight s st rateg y. Alt ho ugh i nit ially s u ccess fu l in
registering black voters in McComb and rural Pike County towns like
Amite and Liberty, it soon became clear that voter registration was as
“provocative” as the effort to desegregate interstate transportation in the
Deep South. Moses was severely beaten by white vigilantes on August 29th
while esco rting two black men
to the Amit e courtho use to register to vote.
, 2006: pp. 396-
402). Then in late September, Herbert Lee, the
-founder of the Amite NAACP, an o
rganization that had been forced to
operate underground for several years, was murdered by E.H. Hurst, the
State Representative from the area and an outspoken segregationist. Lee’s
apparent “crime” was the intransigence he demonstrated by agreeing to
Moses around the county and help register blacks to
vote (2006:
3). However, rather than temper the enthusiasm of local students, the
beatings and violence spawned the formation of the Pike County Nonvio-
lent Movement and attempts to desegregate the lunch counters at the
McComb Greyhound station and the local Woolworths (2006: 400
Still, as Carrier
notes, there is no visual trace of this historic campaign in
the local landscape. “In towns with some of the most heroic events
, Mc
Comb, Greenwood,
Hattiesb urg,
a Confederate soldier on a pedestal still
rules the public square. A stranger wandering Mississippi would have al-
most no
idea that a revolution envied by the world took place there (2004:
According to the story told at the 2006
memorial service, Cornelius Steele
had tri ed to regist er to vote in 1955, but was told b y the regis trar that “t hey
needed time to think about it,” and that Steele should return the following
year. Next year when Steele ret urned he w as told th at he coul d vote as lon g
as he didn’t tell any of his friends. This was a compromise he couldn’t
agree to so he declined to register. He tried once more in 1958 only to be
told that he couldn’t register unless he knew how many bubbles there were
in a bar of soap.
ferry observers between the two events, and a close circuit tele-
vision was set up at the coliseum so others could view the pro-
ceedings without traveling to Mt. Zion Methodist Church.
The final compromise, however, did not prevent bitter recri-
minations on both sides. In an article published in the Neshoba
Democrat on June 24, 2004 (see “Neshoba acknowledges64
murders”), Reverend Steele is described “as a convicted felon
from California with Neshoba County ties,” and Ben Chaney is
chastised for boycotting the commemoration, and launching a
“five minute tirade before television cameras” in which he
“claimed that the [Philadelphia] coalition ‘used Negroes to do
their bidding’ to pull off the event.”
The dual commemorations, held simultaneously in 2005, and
especially 2006, provide a fascinating study in contrasts. The
memorial held at Mt. Zion in 2006 followed a standard reli-
gious format and was oriented toward the past, to the events of
1964. Following a welcome by Leroy Clemons, the co-chair o f
the Philadelphia Coalition and the head of the local NAACP,
the Reverend Ed King led the invocation by reading from
scripture and leading the congregants, dressed in formal attire,
in prayer and song. After lighting candles for Chaney, Good-
man and Schwerner, and a tribute by Fent DeWeese, another
member of the Philadelphia Coalition, several guest speakers
provided short comments, followed by an enthusiastic rendition
of “We Shall Overcome.” The ceremony concluded with the
traditional laying of a wreath on a tombstone dedicated to the
civil rights workers.
In contrast, the alternative memorial, organized by John
Steele, was more like a political rally. The event was held over
a three day period in a wooded field in front of the Longdale
Community Center, a cinder block construction which was only
partially rebuilt following a fire in 1982. According to Steele
the fire was simply “payback for twenty years of organizing in
Neshoba County” (personal communication, June 2006). In
place of the neatly folded handbills given out at Mt. Zion, par-
ticipants at the alternative celebration were given a weighty,
fifty-two page packet which not only contained detailed bio-
graphies of the twenty-five civil rights veterans who were in-
vited to speak, but a short tribute to Andy Goodman, and a four
page timeline of Mississippi’s Freedom Summer complete with
citations from four different histories (Dittmer, 1994; Cagin and
Dray 1989; Bruner 1994; Sellers and Terrell, 1990). The packet
also contained a lengthy excerpt from Cagin and Dray’s study,
We Are Not Afraid: The Mississippi Murder of Goodman,
Schwerner and Chaney, which highlights the involvement of
Olin Burrage, the owner of a trucking company who allegedly
arranged for the disposal of the victims’ bodies on his property.
Burrage is one of the few alleged accomplices who are still
alive and living in Philadelphia, MS.
In addition to many poignant and sometimes disturbing sto-
ries by movement veterans, the three day affair included free-
dom singing at regular intervals by the SNCC singers, breakout
discussion groups to develop strategies for pressuring the dis-
trict attorney to pursue other unresolved civil right cases, a
workshop on non-violence led by Diane Nash8, one of the icons
of the civil rights movement, a showing of a new film entitled
“Why Only Killen?”, and a se s sio n entitled “Tellin g It Like It Is”
in which individuals were invited to discuss recent, suspicious
jail house deaths along the Gulf Coast. In short, unlike the Mt.
Zion commemoration, the Longdale “commemoration” was
firmsly rooted in the present and the future through its empha-
sis on ongoing racial violence and the steps that should be taken
to combat it.
C. Psycholog y 101 . S ti gma, Stain, Ca th arsis
and Red emption
“To understand Neshoba County, you have to live here a
hundred years”, Common saying, opening epigram to Witness
in Philadelphia, 1977.
While economics and politics are crucial to understanding
the growth of civil rights tourism in Mississippi, it would be
wrong to ignore the Christian underpinnings of civil rights
tourism, and the need for redemption. Oral and written accounts
by Coalition membe rs and other residents contin ually emphasize
the stigma and embarrassment of being from Neshoba County
and the need to be cleansed of the community’s sin.
An early example of this sentiment can be found in a state-
ment issued on December 4, 1964, the day the FBI made its
first arrests in connection with the murders of Goodman, Sch-
werner and Chaney, by the Ministerial Association of Philadel-
phia. Authored by Clay Lee, the new minister of the First Me-
thodist Church of Philadelphia, the pronouncement was made
as a “matter of Christian conscience” and noted the “element of
shame to all, that there would be among us those accused of
such a crime…” (Mars, 1977: p. 142).
The statement by the Ministerial Association, however, was
far from the common sentiment of Neshoba County residents in
1964. As Florence Mars, a prominent member of the commu-
nity, and the courageous author of Witness in Philadelphia,
goes on to note, residents of Philadelphia were generally more
interested in raising funds to defend the suspects, or blaming
the Meridian branch of the Ku Klux Klan for the killings, than
inseeking justice. Indeed, Mars, one of the few white residents
to testify before a grand jury, was despised by the community
for years, and continually threatened by the Ku Klux Klan.9
Nonetheless, ten years later, Mars quoting Stanley Dearman,
then editor of the Neshoba Democrat, pointed out that a sense
of “corporate guilt” (1977, 278) had begun to set in, and that
this, more than anything, allowed school desegregation to go
ahead smoothly10.
The release of Mississippi Burning also contributed to a
sense of defilement or stain as Dawn Lee Chalmers, a white
Nash not only helped to found SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coord
nating Co mmittee), but was the unofficial l eader of the 1960 lunch counter
sit-ins in Nashville. Nash also took charge of the Freedom Rid
es in 1961
after CORE had d eci ded to can cel t hem f ol lowi ng a s eri es of v iol ent at tack s
in Birmingham, AL (Arse nault, 2006: pp. 179-185).
Describi ng her testimony i n Witness in Philadelphia
, Mars writes: “… the
real purpose of my testimony would be to let the grand jury know there
were white citizens in Neshoba County concerned about the Ku Klux Klan
and the brut
ality of the sheriff’s office… I was then asked about the reput
tion of the sheriff in regard to his treatmen
t of Negroes. I said that
Lawrence Rainey took office in January, 1964, there had been constant
stories of brutality and that his reputation was widely known, not only
among Negroes I knew but in the white community as well. One man asked
me, I thought rather adamantly, what I had against the Ku Klux Klan. The
question caught me off guard and I said that for one thing they didn’t like
Catholics. In Biloxi, a Gulf Coast town with a substantial Catholic popula-
tion, the answer was acceptable. It was fort
unate that I didn’t
slip and say
the Klan didn’t like Negroes (1977:
p. 135).”
10There is a corporate guilt, something that very much involves the life of
the town. They could have reacted diffe
rently, but there was no leader
The school integration has
gone smoothl y and t his is a g reat achi eveme n t
People knew they didn’t want anything resembling this [the murders of the
three civil rights workers] to happen again. The futility of making such a
stand is very clear, and the community is gradually changing
” (1977:
member of the Philadelphia Coalition, reveals in an interview
with Debbie Elliot from National Public Radio (June 17, 2004):
I knew about the murders of the three civil rights workers but
we never learned about this in school. I remember asking a
teacher of mine about it because I knew about it, and she said,
Oh, were not going to discuss that today.” It was just really
shoved under. And it wasI didnt understand that then. I un-
derstand now that its such a stain. Its such a negative thing
that nobody wanted to deal with it. When I saw Mississippi
Burning I was at Ole Miss [University of Mississippi], and we
were allit was a whole group of us from all over Mississippi.
I dont think anybody there was from out of Mississippi, but
they didnt know anything about it. They were looking at me
like oh my gosh.” This happened where you lived. And umm, I
said yeah, but this is kind, you knowI was just trying to kind
of back out it. I was just like oh I dont wantthis is awful. I
was embarrassed. I thought those three men came down here to
do what was right.
Most recently, Rita Schwerner Bender, the widow of Micheal
Schwerner, commented on both the number and sincerity of re-
sidents who approached her seeking “absolution” during the
2005 trial of Edgar Ray Killen:
One of the most fascinating experiences was the number of
people who sat in the courtroom both black and white and
sought me out to talk about their life experiences and seemed to
be looking for absolution from me. It was very genuine. There
was a 55-year-old state trooper… who had tears in his eyes,
who told me and my husband… that when he joined the state
patrol he knew there were some very bad people on it, but that
you cant tell young people about it, and he had tears in his
eyes (personal communication, November 15, 2006).
Consequently, it’s not surprising that meetings of the Phila-
delphia Coalition are often described as “cathartic” or “soul
cleansing” experiences. In an editorial in the Neshoba Demo-
crat (June 2, 2004) a couple weeks before the 40th anniversary,
the editor and co-founder of the Philadelphia Coalition noted
that: “The Philadelphia Coalition has spent the better part of the
last two months immersed in… cathartic, soul-cleansing, expe-
riences as members have come to understand each other, the
hurts and the fears, the guilt and the shame, as their mission
evolved into a single minded quest for justice and redemption.”
This, however, should not be seen as evidence that the ma-
jority of Philadelphia residents are seeking redemption or sup-
port the establishment of a civil rights museum in Philadelphia.
As a legislative aid I spoke with candidly noted, “if residents
had to vote on it, [the museum] wouldn’t come to Philadelphia”
(personal communication, November 10, 2006).
D. History 101: Who Shall Speak for
Neshoba County?
Last but not least, the emergence of the Philadelphia Coali-
tion and its civil rights brochure can be seen as an attempt to
“control the message,” and prevent “outsiders” and “radicals”
from making negative comments about Neshoba County. In a
June 30, 2004 editorial in the Neshoba Democrat, Jim Prince
III, editor and co-chair of the Philadelphia Coalition empha-
sized the importance of the Coalition as a medium for shaping
coverage of the 40th anniversary and of Neshoba County.
“Some criticized, more privately than publicly, t he wo rk of The
Philadelphia Coalition… without realizing just what its sheer
existence prevented. Behind the scenes a fierce battle was rag-
ing between the coalition and radicals who wanted to come in
and take over the observance, to proclaim that nothing has
changed in Philadelphia, MS., and use that lie as a fundraiser
(In Grouper, Labor Paeans, September 2004).”11. Similarly, in
an article titled “Economic Impact of Commemoration Noted,
Leroy Clemons, President of the local NAACP, and the other
co-chair of the Philadelphia Coalition, angrily intoned that the
Coalition’s work was about changing the image of Philadelphia
and Neshoba County. “We’ve had a major impact on that so far
because we are the ones that are speaking now. In the past,
we’ve had these guys coming in from California, from New
York. They want to come in and portray Neshoba County the
way they saw it 40 years ago (June 24, 2004). The sad irony, of
course, is that the “radicals” Prince and Clemons are referring
to include the brother of James Chaney and the widow of Mi-
chael Schwerner, and the reference to “outside agitators” ma-
tches both in tone and substance the rhetoric that helped fuel
animus toward civil right workers in 1964.
In conclusion, I can only reiterate that the emergence of civil
rights tourism in Mississippi is the result of a fragile and some-
what unusual convergence of different interest groups ranging
from liberal to conservative. It is, in part, an outcome of a pro-
gressive-minded business community which wants to attract vi-
sitors to Mississippi and to promote investment in the state.
Although recently converts to the cause of civil rights, the in-
fluence of this group is notable. Two days after the Philadelphia
Coalition and the Philadelphia Board of Supervisors announced
their call for justice, Attorney General Jim Hood announced
that he would seek federal assistance in the prosecution of Ed-
gar Ray Killen. As noted above, this sector of the community
has also worked through the Mississippi Office of Tourism in
order to build a trail connecting the many small memorials and
sites that civil rights workers have built and nurtured over the
The work of the Coalition, however, is also partly a response
to outside pressure, to the additive effects of many outsiders,
including foreign journalists, who have ventured to Mississippi
to find out exactly where the gruesome events of 1964 trans-
pired, and to the fact that civil rights murders have been suc-
cessfully prosecuted in many other states over the last fifteen
years. “Since 1989 when the Neshoba case was first re-examin-
ed,” writes Jim Prince III in an editorial, “authorities in six
states have reopened 22 civil rights murders that led to 21 con-
victions, two acquittals and one mistrial. So the pressure is on”
(Neshoba Democrat, April 21, 2004).
For many others, however, tourism and education are ends in
themselves, ways of remembering events and individuals who
have been largely ignored by the government and by elementa-
ry school curricula. In addition to avowed Christians who speak
about removing stains of the past and seeking redemption, this
group includes veterans of the civil rights movement and activ-
ists who speak about the need for truth and justice. No veteran
While Ira Gr upp er d oes not prov i
de a complete cit ati on for t his qu o te, J im
Prince III verified the statement when we spoke, and added that he told
some of Ben Chaney’s supporters at a coalition meeting that “they were
welcome in Philadelphia, that they would be fed, but once they crossed
county li nes, the coaliti on was in charge ( personal commu nication, January
10, 2007).”
of the civil rights movement I spoke with was opposed in prin-
ciple to building a museum or having a tour. Activists are
painfully aware of the ignorance that surrounds the events of
1964 and the larger history of the civil rights movement, but
there is almost always a sense of ambivalence, a lingering ques-
tion about who will be placed in charge of the memorials and
the tours, and what will ultimately be said.
The Freedom Rides, as Arsenault points out in the conclu-
sion to his monumental history, may serve as a case in point.
Although the Kennedy administration and the Interstate Com-
merce Commission had made no attempt to enforce existing
legislation (Morgan vs. the Commonwealth of Virginia) favor-
ing desegregation of bus lines and terminals in the South prior
to the Freedom Rides, and were reluctant to provide federal
protection to the freedom riders throughout 1961, the adminis-
tration was successful in attributing the gains brought about by
non-violent direct action to “governmentally administered gra-
dualism (2006: 504).” A December, 1961 press release re-
counting the Administration’s achievements in the area of civil
rights lauded the ICC’s belated order to desegregate interstate
travel facilities, and “the government’s role in bringing about
‘substantive progress’ in transit desegregation, but barely men-
tioned the Freedom Riders (2006: 504).
In short, the question is not whether something should or will
be said, but whether it is an opening or a closing, a beginning or
an end. As Rita Schwerner Bender comments in a letter to Ha-
ley Barbour on July 7, 2005:
Recently, after the verdict and sentencing in the Edgar Ray
Killen trial in Neshoba County, you indicated your belief that
this closed the books on the crimes of the civil rights years, and
that we all should now have closure… People in positions of
public trust, such as you, must take the lead in opening the
window upon the many years of criminal conduct in which the
state, and its officials, engaged… So please do not assume that
the book is closed. There is yet much work to be done. Please
dont squander the moment by proclaiming that the past does
not inform the present and the future (In Howard Ball, Sep-
tember 25, 2006).
In short, as Faulker’s Gavin Stevens, native son of the fic-
tional Yoknapatawpha County, MS, reveals in Requiem for a
Nun (1959: 33), “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A
new chapter has begun. What is written remains to be seen.
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