Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Cartoon #155: Edgar Ray Killen
Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old Baptist minister and reputed Ku Klux Klan leader, went on trial June 13, 2005, accused of masterminding the 1964 murders of three civil rights activists in Mississippi.
It was the third time Killen pled not guilty to the charges since he was first tried in 1967. In that trial, an all-white jury deadlocked because one juror said she could not convict a preacher. That mockery of justice inspired the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.
Killens 2005 trial continued the prosecution of cold cases from the civil rights era, beginning with the 1994 conviction of Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers. During such trials many ask why we should care about justice delayed for decades.
Our fear, bigotry and apathy have delayed other truths. It took thirty years, and the courage and dedication of a principled few, to say with finality the simple words: Medgar Evers was assassinated by Byron de la Beckwith.
The choice President Kennedy gave Americans the night of Medgar Evers murder says it best: Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.
Throughout his political career, Kennedy made similar statements which grow more haunting with each anniversary of his own unresolved murder:
For, in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, holds office; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities....A man does what he must in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures and that is the basis of all human morality.
The 1930s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to grow unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.