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Films >> Mississippi Burning (1988) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay by Patrick O'Brien.

For general information about the Mississippi Summer Project and Freedom Summer, see the Wikipedia entry. For a full description of the trial and subsequent legal proceedings, consult Douglas Linder's "A Trial Account."

The Mississippi Summer Project

Mississippi Burning is set in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, which, at the time, was perhaps the epicenter of the Jim Crow South. It was also the location of a massive black voter drive that eventually became known as the “Mississippi Summer Project.” The season-long event was run by the umbrella group known as the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which was a coalition of such groups as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). These groups had coalesced in 1962 to take on what they argued was the worst white supremacist state. To help accomplish this, the COFO, two years into their efforts, recruited and trained up to a thousand “white” mostly northern mostly college students to work at “freedom schools” and to staff a massive voter registration drive. It was hoped that their efforts would draw national attention, and they were trained to remain nonviolent in the face of armed resistance. A number of “white” Mississippians took umbrage to the efforts of the outsiders (often affectionately known as “Yankee do-gooders”) and responded in force (i.e. forming a local Ku Klux Klan, intimidation, terror, harassing reporters and activists, attacking homes and burning black churches -- thirty-one in 1964 alone). The “white” northerners were there to provide some practical knowledge and support for the voter drive and the freedom schools but also to draw the attention of the national media. COFO’s leadership was banking on the inevitable violence against these young Northern “whites,” and the action it would force upon the Federal Government. It was in this context that the three civil rights workers were murdered on June 21, 1964.

The Triple Murder

The efforts of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was already drawing the attention of white supremacists in Mississippi. Local members of the Ku Klux Klan believed that they could act with impunity, for “whites” in the state were rarely indicted for crimes against nonwhites or “white” civil rights advocates. The Klansmen were determined to drive away these outside “troublemakers” and send a message of fear to the local black population. The tragedy dramatized by the film occurred near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Neshoba County. Of the three victims, one was Michael Schwerner, a white social worker from New York City, and affiliated with CORE. The second was Andrew Goodman, a student at Queens College in New York City. The third (and only “black”) victim of this particular incident was James Chaney, associated with CORE and a southerner heavily involved in the voter registration drive. The three activists were apprehended by the Neshoba County deputy sheriff, only to be released later that evening into the not-so-welcoming hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who forced them into the woods and shot them. The FBI, called in by President Lyndon Johnson (who wanted this stain removed quickly), found the activists’ car in a nearby river, and the three bodies were eventually found at the base of a dam on August 4, 1964. Eventually the FBI was able to convince a few Klansman to turn states evidence; several arrests followed, and a white Mississippi jury found two law enforcement officers and six others guilty of depriving the three victims of their civil rights. The three activists were murdered the evening before the project was to officially commence.

Print Resources

Allen, James. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 2000.
This book documents American history in a disturbing, uncomfortable, and visual way. By presenting photographs of lynching and violence directed towards blacks, Allen's compilation leaves the reader uneasy and questioning. Without Sanctuary is a look into the American past that no one wishes to take. Yet, it is a very necessary look that we must take in order to understand the true effect of lynching in America. Furthermore, it helps to establish a sense of lynching mentality and culture, as it depicts happy families taking photos in front of mutilated blacks.
Ball, Howard. Murder in Mississippi: United States v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 2004.
Amazon review: "Howard Ball reminds us just how problematic the prosecution of the murderers--all members of the KKK--actually was. When the State of Mississippi failed to indict them, the U.S. tried to prosecute the case in federal district court. The judge there, however, ruled that the federal government had no jurisdiction and so dismissed the case. When the U.S. appealed, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court decision, claiming that federal authorities did indeed have the power to police civil rights violations in any state. United States v. Price (1967) thus produced a landmark decision that signaled a seismic shift in American legal history and race relations, for it meant that local authorities could no longer shield racist lawbreakers."
Huie, William Bradford. Three Lives for Mississippi. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, [1965] 2000.
One of the acknowledged sources for the screenplay. An account by a white southern journalist with a passion for civil rights who covered the case from the beginning through the trial. Introduction by Martin Luther King. Kirkus review of the first edition: "Huie, an injustice collector and prosecutor of a good many flagrant cases (Private Slovik, Mamie Stover, Ruby McCollum and Emmett Till)was asked by the New York Herald Tribune to follow up on the murders of Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andy Goodman (where the material here is now running). Huie prefaces their story with the 'cutting' (castration) of a Negro by some restive Klansmen in 1957, and the release of the offenders by Wallace in 1963. This is by way of high (or low) lighting the ambience of terrorism which prevailed in Mississippi at the time the 'little Auschwitz' took place there. Most of this book, which will not enlighten the more informed reader who has kept up with the newspaper coverage, gives the background on the case and those involved: Huie interviewed all those who knew Mickey Schwerner (he was the only real target), those he worked for and with, his wife,' and the families of all concerned. One can question the credentials of some of seemingly fictional insets-- i.e. after committing the crime, the offenders 'were met by an official of the state of Mississippi' who (by the way, who?) said 'Well, boys... you've done a good job.... But before you go, I'm looking each one of you in the eye and telling you this: the first man who talks is dead.' This of course does contribute to the readability quotient here and certainly the headline-byline factors will be appreciable. Huie is not one to denature sensational values of any case he has written up, but then, even if it is read for the wrong reasons, it gives the right ones. The publishers say 'bestseller-dom guaranteed'."
McAdam, Doug. Freedom Summer. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
The Kirkus review: "A survey of many of the participants in the famous Mississippi Summer Project of 1964. . . . Many of the lessons the volunteers learned fed the more radical elements of the later 60's: 'Freedom Summer marked a critical turning point both in the lives of those who participated in the campaign and the New Left as a whole. . .The events of the summer effectively resocialized and radicalized the volunteers. . .and laid the groundwork for a nationwide activist network out of which the other major movements of the era--women's, antiwar, student--were to emerge.' McAdam ends up making of this volume a sociological survey, having been able to reach and question over a third of the thousand or so original volunteers. What he discovered was that, overwhelmingly, the participants were the children of privilege, coming out of the half-dozen or so elite universities; that they reflected typical male chauvinist opinions of the day in their expectations of women's contributions to the project and project leaders' proscriptions of white female relationships with local blacks; that far from using the project as a means of rebellion against their parents, most volunteers were actually putting into action values that they had learned at home. In addition, McAdam discovers that, despite the appearance of accommodation with 1980's yuppie life-styles, many of the volunteers still hold true to their old political beliefs and may yet pass the torch on to a new leftist movement."
Watson, Bruce. Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and America a Democracy: New York: Viking, 2010.
The Kirkus review: "Journalist Watson creates a complete picture of this decisive summer, from the makeup of the young students who risked their lives to volunteer to a comprehensive portrait of a nation on the brink of wrenching change in race relations. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had recruited across college campuses legions of white and black students eager to break open the deeply segregated 'closed society' of Mississippi, with its entrenched obstacles to black voting. Trained briefly in Ohio and bused down to Mississippi by late June, the young, idealistic volunteers were well-informed about the white hostility and customary savagery perpetrated against blacks that they would face. However, the largely middle-class, well-educated students were not prepared for the scenes of poverty and destitution they encountered in black communities throughout the South. The disappearance in late June of three SNCC volunteers haunted their work that summer, and the incident serves as the book's suspenseful propulsion. The discovery of their remains in early August—after an extended FBI hunt and national outcry—reinforced rather than deterred the volunteers' conviction. Watson does a fine job portraying key participants, such as SNCC leaders Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as less-well-known events at the subsequent Atlantic City Democratic Convention in mid-August, where the 67 black Freedom Democrats of Mississippi insisted on being heard. Engaging but occasionally longwinded, Watson's work is competently researched and contextually rich. A moving record of the power of idealism."
Welch, Neil J., and David W. Marston. Inside Hoover's FBI: The Top Field Chief Reports. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.
Reputedly writer Gerolmo's initially inspiration. The Kirkus review: "The Breakaway Agent and the Absolute Boss. In hard-boiled, sardonic, thriller-prose, Welch and Marston (and/or, conceivably, a professional ghost) reconstruct Welch's career as a maverick FBI field agent, foe of organized-crime-and-corruption, in an FBI dominated by Hoover's obsession with paper-controls, preserving his position, and 'internal subversion.' . . . . There's lots of additional FBI scuttlebutt; not all of it negative. For one thing, the Hoover FBI's much-criticized reliance on Southern agents in the Mississippi civil-rights cases is presented as gut-wisdom, and effective. ('Unlike the Justice Department, he had avoided making Mississippi the enemy.')
Whitehead, Don. Attack on Terror: The FBI against the Klu Klux Klan in Mississippi. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970.
One of the acknowledged sources of the screenplay. The Kirkus review: "Don Whitehead, author of The FBI Story and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, sets the FBI at the center of another story, the four-year underground struggle to smash the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi that was touched off in the summer of 1964 by the murder of the three civil rights workers, Chancy, Schwerner, and Goodman. Throughout the lengthy investigation of that crime and other incidents of arson, beating, and murder that followed, Whitehead's FBI plays the sensitive pivotal role in the federal government's confrontation with the local Mississippi authorities, standing up to KKK terrorism but impressing the hostile townspeople with their integrity, a stabilizing force in an explosive situation. The account commences with the launching in late June 1964 of the COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) civil rights drive to organize Mississippi's black communities and register voters, perceived by Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers of the KKK's White Knights as 'the nigger-communist invasion of Mississippi. . . the enemy's final push for victory. . . which may well determine the fate of Christian civilization for centuries to come.' In depicting the course of events leading to the triple murder, the conviction three-and-a-half years later of Imperial Wizard Bowers and six confederates (their final appeal to the Supreme Court was rebuffed in February 1970), and 'the end of the Ku Klux Klan's power-through-terror in Mississippi,' Whitehead recreates Klan meetings, FBI conferences, and government consultations with a 'you were there' intensity of detail. (Much of the information about Klan goings-on at the time was derived from highly-placed, conscience-stricken informants cultivated by the FBI.) At the end of the story, Whitehead indulges in a little editorializing and some facile reverse-side-of-the-coin comparisons between White Supremacy and Black Power, between 'the Negro-hating Klans of the South and the white-hating Black Panthers of the North,' but for the most part this is a taut, effective documentary."

See Also

Andrews, Kenneth T. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Its Legacy. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004.

Atwater, James. "If We Can Crack Mississippi." Saturday Evening Post 2 July 1964.

Ball, Howard. Justice in Mississippi: The Murder Trial of Edgar Ray Killen. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 2006.

Belfrage, Sally. Freedom Summer. [1965] Charlottesville, U of Virginia P, 1990.

Cagin, Seth, and Phillip Dray. We are not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi. New York: Nation Books, 2006.

Chalmers, David Mark. Backfire: How the Ku Klux Klan Helped the Civil Rights Movement. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Erenrich, Susie, ed. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Montgomery: Black Belt Press, 1999.

Fireside, Harvey. The "Mississippi Burning" Civil Rights Murder Conspiracy Trial. Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 2002.

Hendrickson, Paul. "20 Years Ago in the Heat of the Night." Washington Post 10 July 1984.

Hogan, Wesley C. Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007.

Kasher, Steven. The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68. New York : Abbeville Press, 1996.

Klarman, Michael J. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. New York: Oxford UP, 2004.

Linder, Douglas O. "Bending Toward Justice: John Doar and the Mississippi Burning Trial."

Mars, Florence. Witness in Philadelphia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1977.

McCord, William. Mississippi: The Long Hot Summer. New York: Norton, 1965.

McPherson, James Alan. "Burning Memories, Mississippi 1964." New York Times 4 January 1989: 15.

McWhorter, Diane. A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1964 to 1968. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2004.

Nevin, David. "A Strange Tight Little Town, Loathe to Admit Complicity." Life 18 December 1964.

Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003.

"A Recollection of Michael Schwerner." The Reporter 16 July 1964.

Rothschild, Mary Aiken. A Case of Black and White: Northern Volunteers and the Southern Freedom Summers. Hartford: Greenwood, 1982.



Rugaber, Walter. "MISSISSIPPI JURY CONVICTS 7 OF 18 IN RIGHTS KILLINGS." New York Times 21 October 1967.

Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Boston: Beacon Press, 1965.

Zinn, Howard. The Southern Mystique. New York, Knopf, 1964.

Video/Audio Resources

Biewen, John. Oh Freedom Over Me. American RadioWorks.
"American RadioWorks correspondent John Biewen interviewed Freedom Summer veterans. Though their stories, he revisits the dramatic events of the Mississippi Summer and explores how the Summer helped shaped racial politics in America for years to come."
Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954 to 1965. PBS Home Video, 1992.
Especially program 5: "Mississippi-- is this America? 1962-1964." Seems to be still the "go to" series of films for all things relating to the civil rights movement.
A Fragile Freedom: African American Historic Sites. The History Channel; A&E Home Video, 2002.
"From stops on the Underground Railroad to the sites where the grand drama of the Civil Rights Movement played out, this video tours the nation to tell the story of Black America. The eight stops take us from New York City to Jacksonville, Florida, visiting famous landmarks and overlooked sites, and exploring the significance of each with the help of local experts and other scholars."
Free at last: Civil Rights Heroes. Image Entertainment, 2004.
Has a section on our subject: "The civil rights movement in the United States is usually thought of in terms of its leadership, but often the catalysts for progress were people who fought from within a larger group or performed individual acts of heroism. Some were victims who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are some of those stories."
Freedom on My Mind. California Newsreel, 1994.
"Documentary of the civil rights movement and the events surrounding the Mississippi Voter Registration Project of the early 1960's. Combines archival footage with contemporary interviews."
I have a dream. SpeechWorks: Nostalgia Co., 2004.
This historical compilation features highlights of major speeches given by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and an impromptu eulogy for Dr. King, given by Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
"Mississippi Summer: The Unfinished Journey." WBZ-TV Boston, 1984.
"A history of the civil rights struggle for blacks during the 1960s in Mississippi."
Mississippi, America. Dept. of Radio-Television at Southern Illinois University: Distributed by PBS Video, 1995.
"Presents a documentary on the civil rights movement in Mississippi where blacks organize to qualify for registering to vote."
Mississippi: is this America?. PBS Video, 1986.
Part of Eyes on the Prize: "Covers the voting rights question in Mississippi, which became a testing ground of constitutional principles."
Murder in Mississippi: The Price of Freedom. Princeton: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 1994.
"Thirty years after 'Freedom Summer' in Mississippi, this ABC News Turning Point program retraces the dramatic events of that summer, and examines how the murders of three young men by the Ku Klux Klan shocked the nation and changed the course of civil rights movement."
Neshoba: The Price of Freedom (2010)
IMDb storyline: "Neshoba tells the story of a Mississippi town still divided about the meaning of justice, 40 years after the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Although Klansmen bragged openly about what they did in 1964, no one was held accountable until 2005, when the State indicted preacher Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old notorious racist and alleged mastermind of the killings. Through intimate interviews with the families of the victims, candid interviews with black and white Neshoba County Citizens, and exclusive, first time interviews with Killen, the film explores whether healing and reconciliation are possible without telling the unvarnished truth. (
An Unlikely Friendship. New York: Filmmakers Library, 2002.
"About a surprising friendship between an embittered KKK leader (C.P. Ellis) and an outspoken Black woman activist (Ann Atwater), that developed when they were appointed to co-chair a community committee to resolve problems arising from a court-ordered school desegregation, and that changed race relations and shocked Durham's residents.

Online Resources

1964 Freedom Summer Project
"Besides 25,000 archival documents, the site includes a downloadable
Powerpoint about Freedom Summer and a PDF Sourcebook of key documents for
teachers. Although focused on 1964, the online archive also contains many
items dating back into the 1950s and forward to the end of the 1960s, so
it's useful for broader civil rights movement research, too." (became available after our project was done)
Active U.S. Hate Groups (Southern Poverty Law Center)
"The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 1,018 active hate groups in the United States in 2011."
American Lynching
Web site for a documentary film. See especially the "links" (a list of "lynching-related sites') and the link to "Infamous-lynchings."
Bayless, Les. "Three who gave their lives: Remembering the martyrs of Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964." People's Weekly World 25 May 1996.
Interview with Buford Posey, self-described as the "first white person in Mississippi to join the NAACP," that contains interesting information about how the FBI ignored his tip about the murders and about Ernest Moore, the informant who knew where the bodies were buried.
Berger, Maurice. "A Radically Prosaic Approach to Civil Rights Images."
Article about and showing photos Gordon Parks took for a Life magazine photo-essay "The Restraints: Open and Hidden" in September 1956.
"The Civil Rights Movement." History Now 8 (June 2006).
Teaching resource from the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Sections on different perspectives, music of the the movement, African American leaders, events in Washington, major events and legacies.
Civil Rights Documentation Project
Oral history bibliography, transcripts, timeline.
The Civil Rights Era.
Part of the African American Odyssey project by Library of Congress, American Memory.
Civil Rights Movement Veterans
"This website is of, by, and for Veterans of the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s. It is where we tell it like it was, the way we lived it."
Excerpts from the Trial Transcript in United States vs Price et al. (the "Mississippi Burning" trial)
Witness testimony, closing arguments, confession of Horace Barnette.
Freedom Summer. CORE - Congress of Racial Equality
Sections on the three victims, the trial, and other things.
Hate Watch (Southern Poverty Law Center)
As the election approaches -- and with it, the prospect of four more years under an African-American president -- the radical right is growing more desperate by the day. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a staggering 1,018 hate groups operating in our country -- a nearly 70% increase since 2000.
The Jury's Decision
The verdict, list of jurors, newspaper articles.
Keeping History Alive.
"Patti Miller, one of those participants in the Freedom Summer project of 1964, arrived in Meridian, Miss. just as the bodies of three civil rights workers were found, slain by members of the Ku Klux Klan a month earlier. After that life-changing summer and graduation from college, she went on to work with Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Chicago as part of the Project to End Slums. Now Patti is Keeping History Alive with her dynamic, inspiring presentations of her unique and personal story. In an era when freedom and individual rights and opportunities are still unrealized for many, Patti's story is relevant to young and old alike. Her presentation challenges us all to take action today to create a more just and diversified society, while creating the history of tomorrow."
The Knights Party, USA (The Ku Klux Klan)
"Bringing a Message of Hope and Deliverance to White Christian America!" Be sure to see the links to other groups on the left side of the top page of the site.
Linder, Douglas O. "The Mississippi Burning Trial (U. S. vs. Price et al.)"
Comprehensive account of the case right up to 1969.
MIBURN (Mississippi Burning). Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Summary of the investigation of the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.
Mississippi Freedom Summer — 1964
Pictures of activists and activities.
Mississippi Freedom Summer Project 1964 digital collection.
The primary materials from the Mississippi Summer Project that comprise the digital collection--videotaped oral history presentations and interviews--were taped at the 2004 Voices of Freedom Summer National Conference and Reunion. Collection materials also include journals, photographs, newsletters, pamphlets, diaries, and letters written by the college students and civil rights participants who trained in Oxford, Ohio; these are housed in the Western College Memorial Archives. Topics include oral history recollections or presentations by activists and educators such as Jane Adams, Chude Allen, Hardy Frye, Jim Kates, Chuck Mandue, Rick Momeyer, Representative John Lewis, Bob Moses and others. Interviewees also recall the events of Freedom Summer, discuss the relationship between religion and social activism, the struggle for social justice, Freedom Schools, civil rights in Cincinnati, OH, the history of SNCC, the roles of women and the arts in the movement, and non-violent philosophies and practices. Individual interviews with are also available on the site.
Mississippi Summer Project brochure
"In the summer of 1964, college students and others throughout the United States were invited to Mississippi to take part in what was then called the Mississippi Summer Project. In the brochure announcing the project, details were given to interested persons regarding the history and purpose of this endeavor. It was this brochure that the attention of hundreds of college students."
Museum of Broadcast Communications. "The Civil Rights Movement and Television"
"American television coverage of the Civil Rights Movement ultimately contributed to a redefinition of the country's political as well as its televisual landscape. From the 1955 Montgomery bus boycotts to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, technological innovations in portable cameras and electronic news gathering (ENG) equipment increasingly enabled television to bring the non-violent civil disobedience campaign of the Civil Rights Movement and the violent reprisals of Southern law enforcement agents to a new mass audience."
Southern Poverty Law Center
"The Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society."
U. S. vs Cecil Price et al. ("Mississippi Burning" Trial) 1967. The "Famous Trials" web site.
Extremely helpful. This is "the" first place to go for the "real" history.
Without Sanctuary.
"Searching through America's past for the last 25 years, collector James Allen uncovered an extraordinary visual legacy: photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America."