1) Docudrama is a dubious genre; something that pretends to be docudrama is even more dubious. Mississippi Burning was patently based on the murder of three civil rights workers in June 1964 -- a local black, James Chaney, and two white Northerners, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Admittedly it would be difficult to make a film on that subject and keep it more document than invention, but this film doesn't try very hard. It wants praise for facing facts fearlessly without being bound by them. A few lines, tucked in at the very end after the long closing list of credits, tell us that Mississippi Burning is not factual, that it was only suggested by the facts. This strategy licensed the filmmakers -- Chris Gerolmo, the writer, Alan Parker, the director, Frederick Zollo and Robert F. Colesberry, the producers -- to lard the story with movie stuff in order to make it "play." (Stanley Kauffmann)
2) The tensions that develop between Ward and Anderson are not entirely unpredictable. The film's resolution also depends on two rather unlikely character transformations. (Vincent Canby)
3) It is movie journalism: tabloid with a master touch. And the master, the suave manipulator, is Alan Parker. By avocation he is a caricaturist, and by vocation too. He chooses gross faces, grand subjects, base motives, all for immediate impact. The redneck conspirators are drawn as goofy genetic trash: there's not a three-digit IQ in the lot, not a chin in a carload. These are not bad men -- they're baaaad guys. And the blacks are better than good; their faces reveal them as martyrs, sanctified by centuries of suffering. Caricature is a fine dramatic tradition, when you have two hours to tell a story and a million things to say and show. (Richard Corliss)
4) The racial violence that erupted in this lumber-milling community 24 years ago is like a festering wound that refuses to heal. . . . "They (the film makers) just want to stir up trouble between the races. It's all out of proportion," declares Lawrence Rainey, the former Neshoba County sheriff who was exonerated of conspiracy charges in connection with the murders. Disagreeing is the 1964 president of the Neshoba County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Jessie Gary considers the picture an important reminder of the mistreatment blacks endured. (Hal Lipper)
5) As manipulatively racist a movie as has ever been put out by a major studio -- portraying racist whites as easy-to-spot, inbred gargoyles, blacks as noble and utterly helpless/passive victims, and white FBI agents as the action-heroes of the American civil rights movement. Pavlovian director Alan Parker will burn in hell for this one. And he still won't have a clue as to why. (Jim Emerson)
6) Narrow historical criticism somehow seems irrelevant to a movie that so powerfully reanimates the past for the best of reasons: to inform the spirit of today and possibly tomorrow. (Richard Schickel)
7) A lot of excitement and a lot of blood and a lot of action, but it didn't reflect the attitude of the people who were there at the time, and that distorted history. (Ben Chaney, James's brother, qtd. in Letofsky)
8) What Parker hopes to show moviegoers of 1989 is a fable about 1964 -- perhaps the very last historical moment when most American whites could see Southern blacks purely as righteous rebels for a just cause. (Richard Corliss)
9) At the center of the film is the serviceable if not exactly inspired conflict between two very different kinds of F.B.I. agents. Reduced to its superficial essentials, "Mississippi Burning" is a buddy film. On the one side is Ward (Willem Dafoe), the clean-cut, by-the book, ethical F.B.I. agent from the North. On the other side is Anderson (Gene Hackman), a renegade redneck Mississippian, himself a former county sheriff and a man who is not above using dirty tricks in the cause of racial justice. (Vincent Canby)
10) Although white supremacist patriarchal capitalist ideology transparently dominated U.S. culture during most of the twentieth century, the last thirty to forty years of this century have been marked by a legitimation crisis for white supremacy and patriarchy and a concurrent backlash of the institutionalized forces of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. African American movements for equality played a pivotal role in creating this crisis. They destabilized white domination by forcefully arguing, and painstakingly illustrating, the illegitimacy of the structure of white "racial" oppression. . . . From the late 1980s to the present, the film industry has directly responded to the primary source of the white legitimation crisis by constructing co-optive collective memories of struggles for African peoples' equality. . . . The mass dissemination of historical "anti-racist" narratives that marginalize African and African American agency, thereby highlighting "white" heroism, mark whiteness in crisis, resolve the crisis through a paternalistic white supremacist co-optation of anti-racist struggle, and provide a re-legitimating historical fiction supportive of the white backlash against equality. (Kelly Madison)
11) This acute sense of time and place -- rural Mississippi, 1964 -- is the lifeblood of the film. More than any other film I've seen, this one gets inside the passion of race relations in America. (Roger Ebert)
12) If Alan Parker burns in hell for making this deplorable movie, will he even understand why? The gross distortions of history are bad enough, but the real crime is the way Parker gratuitously distorts and manipulates emotions with a manipulative style that's the equivalent of a cinematic bludgeon. (Jim Emerson)
13) Mississippi -- "as bad as--maybe worse than--South Africa." (Civil Rights activist, qtd. in Chafe)
14) This film has drawn accusations that it falsifies an era. "The film treats some of the most heroic people in black history as mere props in a morality play," says Vernon Jarrett, the only black on the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. James Chaney's younger brother Ben, who was 11 in 1964 and is portrayed in the movie, finds the Mississippi mirror distorting: "The movie makes the FBI too good to be true. It is a dangerous movie because it could lead to complacency. Things haven't changed that much." (Richard Corliss)
15) Our film isn't about the civil rights movement. It's about why there was a need for a civil rights movement. And because it's a movie, I felt it had to be fictionalized. The two heroes in the story had to be white. That is a reflection of our society as much as of the film industry. At this point in time, it could not have been made in any other way. (Alan Parker, qtd. in Corliss)
16) From June of 1964 to January of '65, just six months, KKK nightriders burned 31 black churches across Mississippi, according to FBI records. So, Mr. Parker does not greatly exaggerate in a film that literally crackles with racial hate. Onto the basic framework of fact, the screenwriter Chris Gerolmo and Mr. Parker graft considerable artistic fabrication, chiefly concerning the FBI's investigation of the case, and say it is essentially a "work of fiction." (Wayne King)
17) The civil rights, black consciousness, and black power movements of the mid-fifties to the early seventies, created a profound change, or discursive shift in white supremacist ideology and, consequently, in the transparency of the meanings of "whiteness" and "non-whiteness" that rationalize "racial" inequality in U.S. culture and society. . . . "The civil rights era" successfully elevated this demand and inherent critique of white domination to the center stage of mainstream (white) cultural politics. At the same time, they attempted to cultivate belief in African American equality based, in part, on a new sense of pride in, respect for, and knowledge about, being "black." This re-articulation of blackness necessitated a re-articulation of whiteness [as found in films such as Mississippi Burning and other anti-racist white hero films]. (Kelly Madison)
18) McDormand gives one of the year's most complex performances as the submissive, troubled wife of the odious Deputy Pell (Brad Dourif), secretly a Klansman. She is the movie's sole hero, its moral backbone, a pivotal character who overcomes a lifetime of prejudice, helped along by Anderson's courtly interest. Anderson is a tainted hero who breaks the law to enforce it, just like Popeye Doyle, Hackman's Oscar-winning maverick in "The French Connection." Separated by 16 years of movie evolution, the two detectives both decide the ends do justify the means. If they have not lain down with dogs, they have at least visited the doghouse. Our own agitated hearts invite us to go along when Ward reluctantly gives in to Anderson's pragmatics. But he warns, "Don't drag me down to your gutter, Anderson." Hackman parries with, "These people crawled out of the sewers, Mr. Ward. Maybe the gutter is the place we have to be." (Rita Kempley)
19) The charges [against Alan Parker and the film] are not trivial, and neither is the challenge. At issue is the freedom of a filmmaker -- or any artist -- to twist the facts as they are recalled, to shape the truth as it is perceived. May a movie libel the historical past? And has Mississippi Burning done so? Artistic liberty vs. social responsibility: the stakes are high. The memories are indelible. The battle lines are drawn. (Richard Corliss)
20) The fact that the same sort of domestic terrorism (because isn’t that what the white southerners were doing, really? Instilling terror into the lives of black southerners?) can be seen in movies made about events forty years apart makes me question how far we as a nation have come. It’s easy for me, a white female who’s only ever gone to schools that have been predominantly white in the tri-state area, to believe that the country has come very close to attaining racial equality, but I shudder to think what may continue to occur in the South. This is probably not a fair reaction -- it is illogical to base such a conclusion on two movies. But that is part of their cinematic effect, and is what unsettled me the most; both Rosewood and Mississippi Burning portray the South as an autonomous region, a land where the accepted laws and conventions of the rest of the nation are set aside or altered to fit the whims of southern citizens -- a place where the traditional power of the FBI can’t even help you. (Katherine Prosswimmer, Lehigh University)
21) We knew the outcome of this case when we walked into the theater. What we may have forgotten, or never known, is exactly what kinds of currents were in the air in 1964. The civil rights movements of the early 1960s was the finest hour of modern American history, because it was the painful hour in which we determined to improve ourselves, instead of others. We grew. The South grew, the whole nation grew, more comfortable with the radical idea that all men were created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Roger Ebert)
22) I was stunned when a Klan member kicked that black boy to the ground outside of the church where he was praying. I found this scene to be brutal and disgusting. Black people do not fight back; they just sit there and take it. The white people in this movie are portrayed as ignorant monsters. (Sarah Ballan, Lehigh University)
23) The Neshoba County murder case (which was in fact solved by paying a $30,000 bribe to a Klan informant) was a crucial turning point in the civil rights struggle. And that's a big reason why it upsets people that Mississippi Burning equates the movement with a fictional concerted act of officially sanctioned terrorism committed against the Klan by crusading white law-enforcement personnel on behalf of a herd of meek, passive, helpless blacks. This gross distortion, critics have noted, defames the memory of the real leaders, such as King, who was known for his passion and eloquence as well as his pacifism. (Jim Emerson)
24) So the blacks in Mississippi in 1964 who have been resisting; have been organizing voting drives since before that summer, even in the face of the oppression that Parker presented us with (very well done), but are depicted as scared into inaction in the film. At the end of the film, the eulogy scene, which includes an important line about “those two white activists helping us black folk help ourselves (I’m paraphrasing),” does not match the rest of the film. Where are the black folk who were advocating for themselves -- asserting their freedom? Where are the white volunteers? Where was the Freedom Summer Project? (Patrick O'Brien, Lehigh University)
25) "Where does it come from, all this hatred?" [Dafoe's] character wonders, a bewildered intellectual in thick '60s spectacles. Gerolmo attempts a quick-fix enlightenment, blaming poverty and superstition -- but the movie is more effective as a semihistorical document, lest we forget the apartheid in America's past. But like the South African saga "Cry Freedom," it views the black struggle from an all-white perspective. And there's something of the demon itself in that. It's the right story, but with the wrong heroes. There's this nagging feeling that it begins where it ought to have ended -- with the deaths of the three young activists. (Rita Kempley)
26) It is a fiction. It's a movie. There have been a lot of documentaries on the subject. They run on PBS and nobody watches them. I have to reach a big audience, so hopefully the film is accessible to reach millions of people in 50 different countries. It's a fiction in the same way Platoon and Apocalypse Now are fictions of the Vietnam War. But the important thing is the heart of the truth, the spirit. I keep coming back to truth, but I defend the right to change it in order to reach an audience who knows nothing about the realities and certainly don't watch PBS documentaries. The proof will be how it reaches an audience. (Alan Parker, qtd. in King)
27) What Parker hopes to show moviegoers of 1989 is a fable about 1964 -- perhaps the very last historical moment when most American whites could see Southern blacks purely as righteous rebels for a just cause. The picture may hold even truer today. Reactionary whites may not want blacks in their schools, neighborhoods or jobs, but they can feel empathy for the film's heroic Negroes. (Richard Corliss)
28) Once the idea [promoted by anti-racist “white” hero films such as Mississippi Burning] that white supremacy equals hatred, extreme violence and/or overt racial restrictions is secured, the more subtle and pervasive forms of white domination that continue to underpin and reproduce inequality are left unexamined and unchallenged…The deeper cumulative, structural, and institutional nature of white domination is mystified and obscured. In this way, these movies contribute to a discourse in which white racism, defined as extreme and overt, is believed to have been all but eliminated in this country. Therefore, continued agitation on the part of activists and organizations still struggling for equality is constructed as unwarranted and illegitimate. (Kelly Madison)
29) The real moral corruption of Mississippi Burning is rooted in every detail of the movie's style and aesthetics. As Pauline Kael noted in her review, Parker is "a slicker -- a man with talent and technique but without a sustaining sensibility," a director who presumes that "the audience needs a whomp in the gut every two minutes. But if it does, that's because whomping is Parker's basic way of reaching people, and he sets up a pattern." Even if the film had gotten the story right, Parker's overbearing techniques, his relentless "whomping" of the audience, would probably have pulverized historical fact into bloody irrelevance, anyway. In movies, style is content -- the bulk of the story comes across in the way it's told -- and Mississippi Burning sets out not so much to conquer the Klan as to mount a merciless attack on the viewer's autonomic nervous system. (Jim Emerson)
30) Anderson’s story about his father killing the mule was revealing. Besides the obvious comparisons with the envy the white residents of Sumner felt towards the black residents of Rosewood in the previous film we studied, it evokes the “psychological wage” that Du Bois talked about in his book Black Reconstruction. The poor whites in the South did not receive high wages or many quantifiable perks but did receive the psychological assurance that they weren’t black. (Patrick O'Brien, Lehigh University)
31) Oddly, screenwriter Chris Gerolmo and Parker have remained aloof from the victims of this enormous social evil. They give us abuse, not suffering. The black characters are the movie's sacrificial lambs -- burned out, raped, lynched. And they're as sketchily drawn as the inbred-looking white supremacists. Parker, whose vision seems limited to black and white, comes close to admitting these problems in his notes on the making of "Mississippi Burning." The movie probably wouldn't have been made at all, he writes, if it had not had white heroes. (Rita Kempley)
32) As the jury deliberated, most of the defendants stood or sat on benches in the hallway outside the courtroom. Mr. Price thumbed through a copy of Gun Sport magazine. Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey, another defendant, told friends: "Even if they [the jurors] turn me loose, they'll have done the thing they [the Government] set out to do -- break me and put me in debt for the rest of my life." (New York Times)
33) This is one of Mississippi Burning's two main fictional conceits: that the FBI broke the case in part by locating not the fear and greed of a Klan informant, but the flinty, vindictive soul of Souhtern integrity. The other conceit is as low-road as the plot twist in a kung fu scuzzathon. The film imagines that the FBI imported a free-lance black operative to terrorize the town's mayor into revealing the murderers' names . . . . It's grizzly machismo represents an '80s-movie solution to a '60s for real enigma: Dirty Harry beats dirty laundry. (Richard Corliss)
34) I'm trying to reach an entire generation who knows nothing of that historical event to cause them to react to it viscerally, emotionally, because of the racism that's around them now. And that's enough of a reason, a justification, for the fictionalizing. (Alan Parker, qtd. in King)
35) "In the original screenplay, I [screenwriter Gerolmo] wrote the story as I heard it, that there was a Mafioso who owed the FBI a favor who was persuaded to come up and hold a gun in a conspirator's mouth until he told them what they needed to know. Then Alan [Parker] was inspired to change that detail, but basically the spirit was the same." Mr. Parker said in interviews that he transformed the Mafia hit man to a black FBI agent as "almost a metaphor for what was happening in real life, the assertion of black anger, and black rights reasserting themselves." By the same token, he said the agent's description of the castration of a young black man was taken from a factual description of a real castration of a black man by a Klansman. (Wayne King)
36) In the narrative structure presented [in Mississippi Burning] it is the agency and the developing character of the “white” protagonist that is the engine that moves the story along. The “white’ protagonist is the subject; we experience “reality” through his or her eyes. In comparison, “black” characters are variously objectified, seen largely from the outside through the eyes of the “white” hero or heroine. . . . To the exact extent that the African and African American characters are objectified, they elicit sympathy, instead of empathy from the audience. . . . The audience is made to feel sorry for the black victim-object, but not to know in depth the human experience of African peoples and individuals struggling under and against white oppression. The experiences of black people are thus devalued, simplified, marginalized, decentered, and subordinated relative to the experiences of "white" people. (Kelly Madison)
37) Mississippi Burning may masquerade as a serious adult drama, but basically the film does to Southern blacks what Friday the 13th movies do to teenagers, presenting them as nothing more than meat for the grinder. Even Newsweek's Ansen, who praised the movie, admitted in his review to feeling a "Pavlovian wince" every time a black person appeared on the screen. That's because the movie soon conditions you to expect an eruption of violence every time you see a black face. Parker uses blacks only as victims -- "noble" stick figures to be beaten, lynched or burned in orgiastic explosions of slickly packaged pyrotechnics. (Jim Emerson)
38) Unhappier still the people who demand that one film . . . be every film. A lot of people have lived this tale as if it were the novel of their own lives. They have waited a long time for the movie version. And like the readers of every novel, each claimant has already "filmed" his own ideal version. . . . But a movie is not a hologram; its images and meaning cannot change as they are viewed from various angles and special interests. (Richard Corliss)
39) BY MR. DOAR:
Q Can you tell me the purpose of that first meeting of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan?
(DENNIS) A Yes, Mr. Killen explained, first of all what a fine organization that it was that it stood for christianity and American constitution and that it was for the purpose of segregation and preservation of the white race.
Q Was anything else said by Mr. Killen at that meeting?
A Quite a bit was said by Mr. Killen at that meeting and at other meetings.
Q I'm just asking you about this meeting?
A Mr. Killen administered the oath to those that wished to join and explained other things.
Q Did you join?
A I did.
Q Did you get a number?
A I did.
Q What was your number?
A Number thirty-two.
Q Did Mr. Killen explain the Klan action?
A After the swearing in ceremony he explained that it was an organization of action no Boy Scout group, that we were here to do business.
Q Did he explain what he meant by that?
A He said there would be things that the Klan would need to do and would do and among those would be the burning crosses, people would need to be beaten and occasionally there would have to be elimination.
Q What did he mean by elimination?
A He meant killing a person. (Testimony of Delmar Dennis: Direct Examination)
40) In the film, the key revelation in the case comes when Mr. Hackman, at once courtly and cynical, uses seduction as a means of obtaining information. The reality is less romantic. The actual "seduction" was a $30,000 FBI payoff to a Klan informant. Mr. Gerolmo said in a telephone interview that "the fact that no one knew who Mr. X, the informant, was, left that as a dramatic possibility for me, in my Hollywood movie version of the story. That's why Mr. X became the wife of one of the conspirators. That's it -- we're making up a story about the facts." (Wayne King)
41) On August 4, the forty-fourth day of the investigation, a Caterpillar bulldozer began excavating an earthen dam site on a property southwest of Philadelphia known as the Old Jolly Farm. FBI agents had spread the word a week before that a substantial reward would go to anyone who told the bureau where the bodies were buried. For the sum of thirty thousand dollars and a guarantee of absolute confidentiality, an unknown Neshoba citizen, acting through an intermediary, provided the information nearly one hundred agents had spent weeks trying to uncover. Shortly before 3 P. M., agents began noticing “the pungent odor of decaying flesh.” Blowflies swarmed in the 106-degree heat near the Cat’s ten-foot blade and buzzards began circling in the sky above the dam. Minutes later, the heels of a pair of men’s boots poked out of the newly exposed clay. (Linder on Doar)
42) But how long will we have to wait before Hollywood finds the courage and integrity to tell the stories of some of the many thousands of black men, women and children who put their lives on the line for equality? How long will it be before black writers, producers, directors and actors are entrusted with the resources to make serious films about the black experience? . . . I refer young people who want to get a more realistic understanding of the civil rights movement to their libraries. A good place to begin would be Seth Cagin’s and Philip Dray’s “We Are Not Afraid,” which tells the true story of the martyred young men whose names were not mentioned in “Mississippi Burning.” (Coretta Scott King)
43) BY MR. WEIR:
Q I ask you if it is not true and I want your answer, that you and Mr. Schwerner didn't try to get young negro males to sign statements that they would rape one white woman a week during the hot summer of 1964 here in Mississippi?
A No, never.
BY THE COURT:
Counsel, you ought to have a good basis for a question like that. It would be highly improper--I hope that you know--to ask such a question without a basis for it. I'm going to look forward to seeing some basis for that question in this record.
BY MR. WEIR:
Your Honor please, it's a note that was passed to me by someone else.
BY THE COURT:
One of the defendants wrote the question? All right, I'm going to expect some basis for that question since Counsel has adopted one of the defendant's questions and if there's no basis for it, when get through I'm going to say something about that.
BY MR. WEIR:
Your Honor please--
BY THE COURT:
I'm not going to allow a farce to be made of this trial and everybody might as well get that through their heads including everyone of these defendants right now. (CROSS EXAMINATION BY MR WEIR)
44) When local law enforcement officials become involved as participants in violent crime and use their position, power and authority to accomplish this, there is very little hope to be hoped for, except with assistance from the Federal Government, but Members of the Jury, exactly what does that mean? It means that the Federal Government is not invading Philadelphia or Neshoba County, Mississippi, it means only that these defendants are tried for a crime under Federal law in a Mississippi City, before a Mississippi Federal Judge, in a Mississippi courtroom, assisted by Mississippi courtroom officials before twelve men and women from the State of Mississippi. The sole responsibility of the determination of guilt or innocence of these men remain in the hands where it should remain, the hands of twelve citizens from the State of Mississippi. (from Closing Arguments of John Doar)
45) [Anti-racist “white” hero] films tend to construct a paternalistic white supremacist discourse in which the "white" protagonist is symbolically positioned as Father and the "black race" is symbolically positioned as Child. . . . For example, in the massively disseminated Mississippi Burning (1988), paternalistic white supremacy's recuperation of white identity and white domination is in full bloom. Lipsitz (1998) notes that Mississippi Burning and other such films "probably frame memory of [the 1960s] period for the greatest number of people" in the U.S. Lipsitz is probably correct, given the large-scale dissemination of the anti-racist-white-hero film. Mississippi Burning, which grossed 35-million dollars in box office receipts alone, enjoyed a blockbuster opening, an Academy Award nomination for best picture, long runs on premium cable movie channels, highlighted status as the NBC Sunday Night Movie of the Week in 1993 and 1994 (in addition to many other broadcast showings), and availability at most video stores. (Kelly Madison)
46) Two of those convicted -- Price and Roberts -- were called before the judge, denounced and jailed without bond. No additional charges were made. Judge Cox set a hearing on their release for 8 A.M. Monday in Jackson. "I'm not going to let any wild man loose on a civilized society, and I want you locked up," Judge Cox told the two after the jury pronounced them guilty. There were gasps from relatives of the defendants, but the judge continued: "I very heartily enter into this jury's verdict, particularly concerning Mr. Roberts." After the jury reported a deadlock yesterday, Judge Cox read it new instructions drawn from the so called "Allen charge," a set of directions used in the case of Allen v. the United States and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1898. Lawyers also refer to the instructions as the "dynamite charge" because it is designed to help jog the jurors into a unanimous verdict. Judge Cox said he had learned that Roberts, while awaiting the jury's verdict, had made the following threat: "Judge Cox just gave that jury a 'dynamite charge.' We've got some dynamite for 'em ourselves." The judge, known for his stern demeanor and disciplined courtroom, then delivered a slashing rebuke. "There's not a power on this earth that can frighten this court," he said. "No one else need be frightened with his bluster and his bluff for a long time. We're not going to have any anarchy down here, not as long as I'm on this bench." The judge did not specify the precise reasons for Price's incarceration. (New York Times)
47) Q Now, while you lived here in Meridian, were you ever a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan?
A Yes sir, I was.
Q Do you remember about when you joined?
A No sir, not exactly it was in '64.
Q What were the circumstances under which you joined?
A I was approached and asked to join, there were recruiting members to save integration, to save the schools and to protect the white families.
Q Who asked you to join?
A I was first approached by Frank Herndon.
Q And did anybody approach you about it?
A Wallace Miller did after that.
Q Did anybody else approach you?
A No sir, I decided to join.
Q Now, when you joined, just tell the Court and Jury what the circumstances were?
A Well, I was to be given an oath and we drove back to the service station where I was working at the time and at that time I met Reverend Killen from Philadelphia. He and Wallace Miller and Frank Herndon took me up there and swore me in.
Q Now, look around you, all around this room and see if you can identify any of the people that were present when you were sworn in?
A Frank Herndon.
Q Frank Herndon is which one. Describe what he's wearing?
A Pajamas and bathrobe.
Q Anyone else?
A No sir.
Q You don't see anyone else. Now, what happened when you were up there, when you were sworn in?
A I was told that I was joining, that this oath was to uphold the integration of schools, to keep the colored separated from the white and I was a member of the Klan. (Testimony of James Jordan)
48) Parker himself fabricated one of the film's most sensationalistic scenes, in which a black FBI agent (!) kidnaps the town's mayor and threatens to castrate him with a razor blade. It's one of the big, rabble-rousing, crowd-pleasing moments in the picture, invariably winning cheers from the audience by appealing directly to their basest mob instincts. You realize that all Parker would have to do is switch the races onscreen and he'd have the very same audience screaming for black blood like a Southern lynch mob. When all you're doing is appealing to a crowd's worst instincts, it really doesn't matter which "side" you happen to pretend to be on. I can only imagine how horrified Dr. King would be at this spectacle. (Jim Emerson)
49) The plan was executed through the collaboration of the law of Neshoba County, principally in in the person of the Deputy Sheriff, Cecil Ray Price. Members of the Jury, this is no extraordinary case, it has no precedent anywhere. Members of the Jury, this was a calculated, cold-blooded plot. Three men, hardly more than boys, were the victims. The plot was executed with a degree of self possession and steadiness equal to the wickedness to which it was planned. The circumstances, now clearly in evidence, spread out the entire scene before us. (from Closing Arguments of John Doar)
50) One lynching, one castration, one church-yard beating, one torching of a shantytown by the KKK is scarcely enough. In Alan Parker's thumping, splatter-shot direction, there must be a physical violation every 10 seconds. Entire herds of African Americans must be burnt and clubbed so that the FBI-heroes have an ample background against which to exert their iron wills. By focusing on good visual "action," the titillation of bodily violence, the historical context simultaneously is inflated and trivialized. Rather than attempting to portray the institutionalized racism of everyday ingrained social interaction, Hollywood, as always, looks for the sucker punch. Ultimately this film helps to muffle, rather than sharpen, our consciousness, suggesting that only a pile of bloody corpses makes a social injustice worth fighting. At a time of deepening hostility in black/white relations, "Mississippi Burning" sends up a smokescreen that does no one any good. (Paul Arthur)
51) You know, when you see the day the sage is blowing you always know which way the wind is blowing. There is no doubt in mind that there is some inward national disease in our cultural society, there's no doubt about that in my mind, and I don't think there's much doubt about it in your minds. It might be called many names. Rioting, if you want to call it that, demonstration, arguments, COFO workers and organizers. Core workers and organizers, hat peddlers, prejudice, whatever you may wish to call it by, it's a great hassle on our society and the nation and as a state. The real reason whatever it is is the absence of love and presence of disbelief and misunderstanding about God's purpose for man. There's no doubt about that. Now, I'm not a hate peddler, and I don't believe in violence in any form. I don't believe in marches, in rioting, demonstrations, but there is one thing I do believe, when a person, whatever his flight in life may be, and however he may characterize himself, but when he says there is no God and that God is dead that person, whomever he may be exposes himself to many contradictory evil forces in this world. And if they come from every numerous source that you can think of, and if I say to you Members of the Jury, because that is the truth, it's no reason why the strong arm of the Federal Government should come to Mississippi for three and a half years with their thousands and thousands of dollars and new jobs and gather the citizens of this country and others and point an accusing finger toward us with this type of testimony, paid informers, distributors of displace, and scapegoat witnesses. What type of dignity is that I ask you? I believe in the individual right of every man, every citizen and equality of law for that individual, whatever his race or color or creed, and I believe that you do too. (Closing Argument of Mr. Watkins (for the defense))
52) Hollywood is not a place but a state of mind. . . . In Mississippi Burning the drama arises from a whites discovery of injustice toward black people. The hero is someone with whom the white audience can identify, someone with something to lose, someone who suffers only by his compassion for the afflicted. By this rule, every picture about blacks becomes a metaphor for the white man's burden. And the black man's burden is to be a supplicant to Superman, or Bleeding-Heartman. (Richard Corliss)
53) Cox glanced at the papers, then passed them to his courtroom clerk who read the decision. “We, the jury, find the defendant Cecil Ray Price not guilty. I’m sorry, your honor, may I start over?” Cox nodded. The clerk began again: “We, the jury, find the defendant Cecil Ray Price guilty of the charges contained in the indictment.” The defendants appeared to stiffen as they heard the first verdict. The list continued. Seven defendants were found guilty, including triggerman Wayne Roberts and Klan leader Sam Bowers. Eight other defendants, including Sheriff Rainey, were acquitted. The jury reached no verdict on Edgar Ray Killen and two other defendants. (Linder on Doar)
54) This tired fictioneering is made to seem all the more rancid because it's set in a context of assaultive realism: the brutality of the white persecution of the blacks. This war of the whites, both against blacks and against the white outsiders who want to help them, is ripped across the screen with frightening force. The Deep South's reasons for the war are spewed with frightening venom: the desire to preserve Anglo-Saxon democracy, the hatred of interference by Communists, Jews, atheists, etc. These sequences ring hard and true in the midst of a decor of movie gelatin. (Stanley Kauffmann)
55) On June 21st, 1964, three boys traveled to Neshoba County. They were spotted and arrested by Deputy Price and promptly confined in jail. The boys were released by the Deputy Sheriff that night, within two hours they are in their graves, buried twelve or fifteen feet deep, thousands of yards of dirt has been intended to conceal the front, the bodies forever there unknown, buried under red clay in the center of a pond dam in the rural woods of Neshoba County. Their car is disposed of by burning so that there will be no trace. The deed was accomplished smoothly, quietly, effectively, efficiently, the object of the conspiracy achieved. (from Closing Arguments of John Doar)
56) Every author has to shape his material into manageable form. In the process of doing so, a certain amount of dramatic license may reasonably be claimed. Mr. Parker may have entered into a Faustian bargain, doing almost anything to bring his subject decisively into the public view. But his subject is an important one, which no American director has yet been willing to tackle; and the central outrage happened, no matter how its treatment may depart from strict history. (The Economist)
57) In [Mississippi Burning] . . . the two "white" activists, Goodman and Schwerner, are in the front seat, and the black activist, Chaney, is in the back seat. This placing gives the distinct impression that it is the whites that are in charge, they are the leaders and the black man is the follower. In reality Chaney, the local black activist, was driving. He was the one that knew the back roads of Mississippi and had the greater knowledge of what to avoid and how to behave in the event of trouble. The fact that he is relegated to the back seat is not a trivial detail, and it is likely to resonate with all kinds of white supremacist meaning for the viewer of the film. (Kelly Madison)
58) The civil-rights movement -- an almost sacred chapter in our history, full of passion and conflict, high ideals, and terrible violence -- was a delicate subject indeed for a director never known for his delicacy. (Seth Cagin)
59) Members of the Jury, Neshoba County chose to remain silent as to what was known about the events that night in that county. Much has and will be said about the extraordinary methods in discovering the guilty. Should it have been otherwise? ...Was this not a case for maximum effort of the F.B.I.? Could the Federal Government have succeeded in any other way other than rewards, payment for information, tending to expose the band of murderous conspirators, the midnight killers, to bring them to the Bar of Justice of Law? . . . All of you probably have an initial resentment against paid informers, but before you finally decide, examine these men, Miller and Dennis, they are native sons of Mississippi, they are men of courage, because whom among us would doubt their lives are constantly in danger. They are men of convictions, both about State's Rights and law enforcement. (from Closing Arguments of John Doar)
60) Mississippi Burning seems contrived to elicit two strong emotions. One is sympathy for the suffering blacks. Portrayed as passive victims who live in picturesque squalor, they have virtually no dialogue and spend their time singing spirituals in churches that are about to be torched. They are as silent and mysterious as Platoon's Vietnamese peasants. The other emotion is hatred. For the first half of the movie, hatred belongs to the white racists, including bigots on the street, who are interviewed in a pseudo-documentary style. But when the FBI agents start to play rough, it is the audience's turn to revel in bloodlust: the movie becomes a celebration of vengeance. (Brian Johnson)
61) Mississippi stood at a crossroads. Years of peaceful protest had been met with bombings, beatings, and simple murder. And the rest of America did not seem to care. With Martin Luther King focusing attention on Southern cities, Mississippi remained a neglected outpost of civil rights, too removed, too rural, too simmering with hatred to offer the slightest hope. In the wake of the fall's Freedom Election, a new tactic was needed. The election's architect, a man so saintly he was often compared to Jesus, labored to find that tactic. The Freedom Election, Bob Moses said, "makes it clear that the Negroes of Mississippi will not get the vote until the equivalent of an army is sent here." Finally, the idea blossomed. What if, instead of Mississippi's black folk struggling in isolation, hundreds of college students from all across the country poured into the state? Wouldn't America pay attention then? (Bruce Watson)
62) I had determined not to add my voice to those who last year railed so at the British and American cinemas' tendency toward penning blacks up on various cinematic plantations and excising them from serious dramatic films, even those that treat racial issues. "Mississippi Burning" changed my determination not to rail. It is the latest and in some ways the most fraudulent example of cinematic segregation. It also brought into focus much of the subterfuge in the movies that has gone before. . . . It is a balm that says, Don't worry, white moviegoers, no matter how ostensibly black the subject matter may seem, the film is not about them, it is about people just like you and me. (Brent Staples)
63) You only have to read the documents, the executive lecture of Sam Bowers of March the 1st, which statement should be read and re-read thoroughly to understand and grasp the evil of this organization. It describes the White Knights as a Christian, militant organization, and it says as militant, and I'm quoting, "As militants, we are disposed to use our physical force against our enemies. It says, our enemies should be humiliated and driven out of the community by propaganda well enough, but if they continue to resist, they must be physically destroyed. It says, the Klan must never give the enemy an even break, it is a life and death struggle and we must at all times be ready and strive and break and destroy our enemies. Since we must always retain good public relations, that as long as we have the public on our side, we can handle our enemies any way we please." (from Closing Arguments of John Doar)
64) This is a case where maybe one shouldn't read the book (or the Doar reports) before seeing the movie because the film's dramatic license would seem less egregious without knowing the facts. My guess concerning the controversy is that too much "license" was taken and the filmmakers didn't own up to the "fact" that the story was based on true events until a full 5-6 minutes after the closing shot of the gravestone. Back in 1988 I don't recall that many people stayed in the theatre through the credits so the disclaimer might have been missed by most. (Lynn Farley, Lehigh University)
65) Mr. Parker is accused of being English, which he is, and thus incapable of understanding the indigenously American issues at stake, which is nonsense. The most serious charge against him, and one that neither he nor any of his supporters (of which I am one) can defend with grace, is that, in the interests of mass-audience movie-making, he has betrayed the ideals of nonviolent resistance. (Vincent Canby)
66) Sullivan said the usual bureau approach of convincing people that cooperation was in their own best interest did not work. “It didn’t pay to push Neshobans, because they weren’t afraid.” Locals delighted in sending agents off on wild goose chases or debating agents on issues such as communist influence in the civil rights movement. Sullivan bemoaned the countless hours spent “wheel-spinning” and engaging in “jolly talks with Klansmen.” (Linder on Doar)
67) Members of the Jury, this is an important case. It is important to the government. It's important to the defendants, but most important, it's important to the State of Mississippi. What I say, what the other lawyers say here today, what the Court says about the law will soon be forgotten, but what you twelve people do here today will long be remembered. Does not everyone see and understand that it was a matter of absolute necessity that you twelve people of Mississippi be asked to sit as jurors and judge this case? (from Closing Arguments of John Doar)
68) Defenders of the films I have discussed in this paper often rationalize the more blatant white supremacist constructions by arguing that it is "simply a matter of economics," as if the political economy of whiteness legitimates or lessens the impact of such white supremacist constructions of collective memory. Alan Parker, the director of Mississippi Burning, defended his film by asserting that "the two heroes in [his] story had to be white," that "this is a reflection of our society as much as of the film industry," and that at the time the film was produced it "could not have been made any other way." . . . If, as it is claimed by Parker, "our society," or rather, "white" America, does not want to see movies about African or African American heroes of African and African American struggles against white supremacy, but apparently does (or did) want to see the matter addressed with "white" heroes, what might this mean? What is to be gained by the "white" film industry and the "white" audience at this particular historical conjuncture through engaging in such a sustained, conspicuously restricted, and recurrent discourse? (Kelly Madison)
69) "Mississippi Burning," its many flaws notwithstanding, is an important event because it has opened a time of lasting importance to dramatic examination. For many of us, the examination, no matter how honest or sensitive, will be painful. What would be worse would be enduring amnesia about a time when the best instincts of the nation overcame its worst. (Hodding Carter)
70) But, to wring a new twist on an old phrase, power corrupts. And Mississippi Burning is corrupted by the reckless exhilaration it betrays in wielding its own pumped-up, self-inflated cinematic power. Is it a film about a terrible chapter in American history? Racism? Civil rights? Law enforcement? Vigilantism? Not really. It's a film about using cinema as a sledge hammer to pound knee-jerk reactions out of audiences, compelling them to kneel, mindlessly and helplessly, before the altar of "powerful" moviemaking. (Jim Emerson)
71) Because it delves into so sensitive a chapter of American history, Mississippi Burning cannot pretend to be an ordinary Hollywood thriller. It presumes too much. Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney died as martyrs in a conflict that nearly tore this country apart. Their brutal death meant something to millions of people. . . . The gamble with Mississippi Burning is that America is now prepared to re-visit the civil-rights years. (Seth Cagin)
72) It soon became apparent to Inspector Sullivan the case "would ultimately be solved by conducting an investigation rather than a search." It turned out to be an extraordinarily difficult investigation. Neshoba County residents, many of whom either participated in the conspiracy or knew of it, were tight-lipped. Proctor found that some of his most useful information came from kids, so he would stuff candy in his pockets before setting out for a day's schedule of interviews. A promise of $30,000 in reward money finally brought forward information, passed through an intermediary, concerning the location of the bodies. (Douglas Linder)
73) “To have that jury return that verdict was a great thing,” Doar recalled. “The jury paid attention; they were serious people.” It appeared to be compromise verdict, but Doar is not so sure: “What is more likely is that they were applying the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard very strictly.” Looking back nearly more than thirty years later, Doar believes that “the trial helped Mississippi get beyond the caste system. Up to that time, no white person in the state had ever been convicted for violence against a black. After the trial, the good people of Mississippi became more confident that they could move away from their past.” (Linder on Doar)
74) Michael Schwerner, the outside agitator from New York, came from the North to work on Civil Rights for Negroes, he moved into a Negro neighborhood, and he associated with Negroes, he preached freedom, he worked with voter registration, he organized, he demanded, he picketed, he boycotted, he wore a goat beard, he presented a hated organization, he was a symbol of COFO, COFO was the symbol of forced integration of the races in the State of Mississippi. He was hated and despised, and a secret organization was formed to deal with COFO, the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. There was no represented group of the State of Mississippi; but this was a small secret militant group, masterminded by a fanatic, who singled out Schwerner as a man who had to be eliminated. Not to preserve or protect Mississippi, but rather to satisfy his own consuming hate. As early as April, Bowers had approached Schwerner's elimination. (Closing Argument by Mr. Doar)
75) The focus of the film is all wrong. . . . It was not the FBI that desegregated the South. It was a handful of black and white students who did, and they were joined by literally thousands of southern blacks whose courage, even now, seems incredible. (Richard Cohen)
76) There is, I suspect, a more important reason for the widely varying reactions to "Mississippi Burning." That is, the film's unrelenting depiction of violence beginning, just after the credits, with the shocking murders of the civil rights workers, and continuing throughout, in beatings, lynchings and arson as-a-way-of-life. These scenes are sickeningly tough and intimidating. It's impossible to watch them without feeling implicated. They work subliminally. The hatred recalled by the film survives in ways that anyone can recognize today, so much so that as one watches the film, one seeks to establish one's own credentials as a good liberal, law-abiding citizen. (Vincent Canby)
77) The fundamental issue is not fact versus fiction, but the ends that artistic sense is directed toward. As the poet and novelist James Dickey once declared: "Art is a lie that makes us see the truth." Mississippi Burning, conversely, lies to hide the truth, making the summer's heroes those dressed in blue serge rather than those in blue jeans. (Harvard Sitkoff)
78) A The next thing I remember was the date that the car was recovered. Mr. Herndon told me that someone goofed up they were supposed to carry that car to Birmingham.
Q What car?
A The civil rights worker's car.
Q Would you repeat that entire answer, I interrupted you and thereporter may not have gotten all of it.
A Mr. Herndon told me the day that they recovered the car, the burned car, that they were supposed to carry that car to Birmingham, that somebody had goofed up that it was supposed to be carried to Birmingham and disposed of.
Q Now, did you have any conversation with Mr. Killen after June 21 about the three missing civil rights workers?
A Yes sir. . . .
Q And what did Mr. Killen say?
A He told me that he wanted to talk to me and he and I went back to my back room and we sat on the bed, and we were discussing the civil rights workers. Mr. Killen told me that they had been shot, that they were dead, and that they were buried in a dam about 15 feet deep, and he told me that Deputy Price told the F.B.I. the truth about what time he turned them out.
[. . .]
Q What else did he say?
A He told me that they got in a chase down Highway 19 at about a hundred miles an hour and he overtaken them and he said he thought that the car tried to turn and go toward Union from House and that's where they overtaken them in that area there.
BY MR. DOAR: (Testimony of Carlton Wallace Miller)
79) That afternoon Doar and Dulles arrived in Mississippi.
The first scheduled meeting was to be with Governor Paul Johnson. The federal officials knew that they could not count on a lot of support from a man who, during his gubernatorial campaign had frequently joked that "NAACP" stands for "niggers, apes, alligators, coons, and possums." Johnson was already on record speculating that the missing men “could be in Cuba.” the governor said that he looked forward to meeting with the federal officials so that he could show them "there is complete tranquility between the races" among Mississippians. (Linder on Doar)
80) Some found Mr. Parker's changes palatable. I find it a fraud that tinkers with the basic fabric of our time. . . . Mr. Parker makes the FBI and the fictional housewife, respectively, the only guardians of black Americans and the deliverers of justice. With characters like these there would have been no need for a civil rights movement. The weight of "Mississippi Burning's" distortions crushes truth underfoot. The truths sacrificed here were moving ones that said much about America. The simple recounting of those days would make the hairs stand on end on all but the iciest of necks. This story was savaged, it seems, in the service of a clearly reactionary and outmoded idea: that white American would shudder at the idea of heroes not cast in their images. (Brent Staples)
81) Many will be moved by the film because it's exciting. But it's disturbing to think that people will leave the theater believing that lawlessness is just if it serves a good cause. Legitimizing that idea traduces the principles for which so many sacrificed so much to advance civil rights. (New York Times)
82) DIRECT EXAMINATION
BY MR. OWEN:
Q Do you recall what time they were released?
A 10:30 at night.
Q Can you tell the Court and Jury who released them?
A Well, Price came into the jail and up in the hall to our quarters at 10:30 and said, "Mr. Herring, Chaney wants to pay off, and he said, we'll let him pay off and we'll release them all." Well, my husband opened the door and he walked around the white boys were in the front cell and the colored by was on the back, so he walked around the bars and asked the colored boy if he wanted to pay off and Chaney asked him how much was it and he told him it would be twenty dollars. Well, he didn't have the $20.00 on him so he borrowed it from Schwerner and paid the fine, and so my husband wrote the receipt and Cecil went back and unlocked the combination and let them out and walked on out in the little hall. He had their belongings in a little box, and I had their driver's licence, so each one of them reached in and got their billfolds, and put their driver's license in their billfolds, and my husband gave them the receipt and Price told them, "see how quick you all can get out of Neshoba County," and they thanked him and went on out. (Testimony of Minnie Lee Herring)
83) Artistic discipline requires finding a way to make the truth entertaining. Parker had two obligations, The first was to make an entertaining movie. The second, no less important, was to tell the truth. If he could not do that -- and he couldn't -- then he should not have made this particular movie. But because he proclaimed his film to be about High Seriousness and rued the commercial limitations of Hollywood, he has been forgiven the sins of a hack (a concocted ending and a false representation of events). To Hollywood and indeed to film critics and much of the public, film must seem like war: Truth is the first casualty? (Richard Cohen)
84) "Mississippi Burning" is not a movie to prompt yawns. Objectivity is claimed at one's own risk. Such movies are rare these days. They cannot, should not, be dismissed. (Vincent Canby)
85) "This is an important case," Judge Cox told the panel. "The trial has been expensive to the prosecution as well as to the defense." The case "must be disposed of," he said, and another trial will be "equally expensive." Moreover, the judge continued, a second jury will be drawn from the same area as the first and there is "no reason to believe" that it will be any more intelligent or competent in reaching a verdict. No juror should surrender his "honest convictions," the judge went on, but each member of the panel has the duty to "consult and deliberate" with the others and no one should hesitate to change his opinion. "You're not partisans," he said, "you're judges -- judges of facts." Judge Cox then told the jury that it could bring in a partial verdict on some of the 18 defendants if it was unable to agree on all of them. (New York Times)
86) It’s revealing that Gerolmo, whom I presume to be a liberal, was more upset about Parker altering the threatened castration scene than his own misleading omission of any significant black presence in the film. The castration scene was an effective and purposeful “lie” added by Parker. It was a “lie” to reveal a greater truth, namely to expose the greatest “nightmare of a white Mississippi racist,” thereby reversing the power relationship, and allowing the black gaze, for one scene at least, to squeak in. On the other hand, Gerolmo’s “lie” -- his complete omission of any black agency –- did just the opposite. It served no greater purpose for the film or the filmmaker, and did not reveal a greater truth. (Patrick O'Brien, Lehigh University)
87) At the reunion was Judy Richardson, who ran the Snick hot line in Greenwood that summer, relaying the reports of beatings and church burning to the FBI. Today she works for Blackside, a black film company that produced the "Eyes on the Prize" public television series, and finds that when she goes on lecture tours what students know about the period is "Mississippi Burning." "That has been really difficult for me," she said. "Part of the problem is that as a film it's so good, if you don't know what really happened. But it's a total distortion. It's like making a World War II movie where the Vichy are the heroes, a gross disservice." (John Kifner)
88) Rehashing Clint Eastwood's less-than-subtle investigatory techniques, Charles Bronson's approach to cleaning up another western town, and the formula for countless white cop buddy movies, Parker gives us caricatures of the 1960s that are easy to accept in the 1980s. (Harvard Sitkoff)
89) I wonder if Mississippi Burning would have created as much debate had the civil rights worker's car-ride sequence been cut. That was the first sampling of "real" history by the director, and the film probably could have moved forward as a white cop buddy picture without it. The audience didn't need to know the specifics of what brought Ward and Anderson together. Parker's film was saturated with enough period references and 60s climate that the audience would have made a logical conclusion about racism being the impetus for the action, and the critics could have cut him some slack. (Lynn Farley, Lehigh University)
90) In the press kit notes for the film, penned by Parker himself, the director speaks of the actual murders as only "the starting point of our film," though he wants to show his heart is in the right place: "Hopefully, one day someone will also make a film about the importance of these young men's lives." (Thomas Doherty)
91) The director Alan Parker likes to operate in a wildly melodramatic universe of his own creation. . . . The events here took place eight and a half years after Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, but Alan Parker is essentially putting blacks at the back again. . . . Parker uses the civil rights movement to make a wham-bam Charles Bronson movie, and, from his blithe public statements, he seems unaware that this could be thought morally repugnant. . . . Parker is a slicker -- a man with talent and technique but without a sustaining sensibility. Each time I heard the pulsating music start working me up for the next bout of violence, I dreaded what was coming. The manipulation got to me, all right, but the only emotion I felt was hatred of the movie. (Pauline Kael)
92) The film's suggestion that the FBI resorted to dirty, unAmerican tactics to defeat the Klan not only distorts the truth but feeds directly into a Klansman's favorite fantasy -- glorifying his martyrdom and endorsing the Klan's preferred self-image as victims of a federal tyranny. This how many white Mississippians would like to remember 1964: as a war in which both sides employed ruthless means, and their side lost only because it was outgunned and the other side played even dirtier. This is a dangerous fiction. I wouldn't be surprised if Mississippi Burning is popular with the racists it intends to condemn. (Seth Cagin)
93) National identity is constructively viewed as a process rather than a static thing, and the ongoing scrutiny experienced by the South may reflect the continuing need to reproduce the national identity through denoting difference between the imagine spaces of "America" and "the South." This national identity is reproduced through the daily activities of the academy, media, political system, entertainment industry, and other institutions. The representations produced by the process of nationalism are founded upon what Said (calls "summational statements": generalizations about the region that paint all its residents with one brush. (David Jansson)
94) Parker seems to reflect the true arrogance of Hollywood when confronted with events that are factual -- saying, in effect, "My talent is more important than your reality." I am not completely naive: I know that there is no pure truth; I know that Hollywood is more a city of fantasy than of reality; and I know that in the translation to the screen of what is thought of as a factual story, there is a considerable amount of flexibility -- if not poetic license, certainly cinematic license -- and that the real test is not so much exact truth as essential truth. But in the making of this film there is a carelessness, a lack of accountability, that is simply unacceptable. I realize that the true artist, novelist, or movie director can create his universe and invent his own events and the people to fill it. I have no problem with that. There is a Mississippi out there that Parker is welcome to create. But he did not invent his own incident. He chose to base his story on a true event, which, of course, piques our curiosity even more. In the back of the minds of many of us, the death of those three young men still lingers, still haunts. Because of that there are real parameters Parker must deal with. It is no longer his Mississippi; it is instead the Mississippi of those three young men and all the other young men and women who were so remarkably brave that summer. (David Halberstam)
95) The ending is hardly happy, and it never suggests that the nation's civil rights problems were solved with this case; if anything, the film concludes on a bleak note suggesting the size of the struggle ahead. And "Mississippi Burning," which works powerfully on its own dramatic terms, succeeds in focusing attention on an issue Hollywood has not previously been eager to touch. (Janet Maslin)
96) Mississippi Burning does more than tell a tragic story. The film allows the viewer to participate in the reproduction of American identity through the way it invites the audience to identify with Agent Ward and ascribe to the South a host of repulsive traits that, by implication, are absent from the national identity. In this sense, the "geography of racism" inheres in a Southern, not American, landscape. (David Jansson)
97) The story they tell is an atrocious distortion of history. As Mississippi Burning would have it, the only happening in that state during the summer of 1964 was, on the one hand a fight between local white racists and, on the other, heroic FBI sent to the rescue of the submissive, illiterate, quaking black people unwilling to stand up for themselves. (William H. Chafe)
98) The [opening] shot emphasizes that although the water comes from one source, what happens to it after separation is anything but equal. In this respect, the shot functions as a critical assessment of the manner in which the South consistently failed to meet the standards of legalized segregation. (Vincent F. Rocchio)
99) I sat in the screening room admiring his talent, and, then, as the movie progressed, I became angrier and angrier as he [Alan Parker] manipulated the truth. How could he do this to those three young men, turning them into cameo players in what should have been their film? (David Halberstam)
100) Oh, the blacks. They're background. Noble victims, holy sufferers, rocks of ages, and very uncolorful "coloreds." . . . It is a measure of Alan Parker's distance both from the American dilemma of race and the Southern experience of it that he comes forth with a civil rights epic that screens out half of the necessary equation. (Thomas Doherty)
101) Almost perversely . . . "Mississippi Burning" recreates those events and the powerful emotions they evoke in a way that mocks civil rights. This is not a legal question. Movie makers have the right to alter facts for artistic purposes; "docudrama" is as old as Euripides. Nor is it an artistic question. The work might be thought compelling or clumsy aside from its historical accuracy. The issue is moral: whether tampering with the facts in the way this movie does betrays constitutional principles of just the sort that the victims thought they were advancing. (New York Times)
102) Mississippi Burning focused on whites for purposes of box office popularity, and Alan Parker acknowledged the reasons for the decision openly. "Our heroes are still white," the director explained. "And in truth the film would probably never be made if they weren't." He, as well as Gerolmo and Zollo, understood that the movie's primary audience was going to be whites (both in the United States and abroad). The filmmakers believed that a movie about white FBI agents trying to solve the murders would constitute a much stronger attraction than a movie that focused on the African American struggle. Furthermore, "one of the perverse ironies of the case was that two white kids got killed and the whole of America was interested suddenly because it wasn't just a black problem." This reality undoubtedly disturbed many black activists, Parker noted, "because it underlined a national hypocrisy." (Robert Brent Toplin)
103) Life in Mississippi was no joke. Before Freedom Summer and the changes it jump-started, Mississippi was a place where a black body floating in a muddy river was "as common as a snake"; spies and informers working for the state kept dossiers on 250 organizations and 10,000 individuals backing integration; black sharecroppers picked cotton from "kin to cain't" -- from sun up when you "kin see," to sundown, when you "cain't" -- for three dollars a day; civil rights workers were routinely arrested and beaten while cops laughed off charges of "police brutality"; and the slightest tremor of racial equality unleashed shock waves if raw brutality. (Bruce Watson)
104) Like the "blaxploitation" films of the 1970s, civil rights films depict what has been done to blacks, and what has been done for them; but not what has been done by them. And they do this without a black hero. Civil rights films are therefore the opposite of the vigilante genre in which “bloods” are depicted as savages who prey on innocent white victims. Thus, in the eyes of their producers and directors the civil rights films present a positive portrait of black Americans. (Sundiata Cha-Jua)
105) In the summer of 1964 . . . Mississippi was the last great bastion of segregation. Other states, in the face of federal law and a changing national moral climate, were beginning to bend, but in Mississippi the resistance was the most complete and bitter; even minor attempts at integration were immediately crushed, and local blacks who had been cheeky enough in the past decade to register to vote were murdered. Just a year earlier, Medgar Evers, the head of the state chapter of the NAACP, had been killed by a white man. It truly was Fortress Mississippi, a totalitarian island within a more tolerant America. (David Halberstam)
106) "Organized forgetting," as [Milan] Kundera names the process through which the powerful obliterate the memories of the weaker by erasing their history and language and literature, has its analogy in the relation of whites and blacks in this country. Not only are whites more politically and economically powerful, they are also more culturally powerful; not only do whites run the government, and the banks, and the hospitals, and the schools, they also write the laws, the regulations, and -- witness Mississippi Burning -- the stories. And, if Alan Parker is right, we get the kind of stories whites want to see and hear -- the story that "good whites" in the FBI outsmarted the "bad whites" in Mississippi while fearful blacks kept their distance from both. Organized forgetting. (Commonweal)
107) The film itself practices a weird form of segregation as blacks are reduced to a victimized, gospel-singing chorus of extras who periodically march through town without ever intersecting the plot. (J. Hoberman)
108) The surface of the film is about detective work. . . . The film should have been about the killings of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. The fact that in the film they are identified only as "Goatee," "passenger," and black passenger? is testimony to how easily we forget, and how spiritually bleak our will to forget makes this present time. (James Alan McPherson)
109) But the truth according to Parker's version is that blacks in 1964, ineffectual victims, could do nothing for themselves and had to wait for the "feds" to set them free. Not only do no blacks play major roles in Mississippi Burning, none even have names. They are merely frightened bystanders in this wham-bam Ramboesque story of the white FBI battling white racism. Rather than even alluding to the pivotal role played by blacks in the struggle for desegregation and enfranchisement, Parker presents them as sheep-like-unable to act. Symptomatically, and symbolically, he even places Chaney, a Mississippi black working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the actual driver of the station wagon that was stopped by the Klan, in the backseat, and the white Schwerner in the driver's seat. (Harvard Sitkoff)
110) In the film's final moments, the camera lingers on the vandalized tombstone of one of the slain civil rights workers. Name and birthdate are sheared away; all that can be read is "Gone But Not Forgotten." In "Mississippi Burning," three young men who died defending the rule of law are worse than forgotten. They're defamed. (New York Times)
111) Parker also brought a reputation for making films that dramatically contrast "good" and "bad" characters, and he pursued this approach in portraying the Mississippi figures. In adjusting the script and selecting actors, Parker took care to characterize many of the Mississippi whites as ignorant and prejudiced. Members of the Ku Klux Klan got particularly emphatic treatment, appearing as vicious, contemptible bigots. (Robert Brent Toplin)
112) In the Hollywood tradition, when a film supposedly focuses on racism, the phenomenon is explored through white eyes. Hollywood assumes that North American whites are not inherently interested in another point of view; therefore, films dealing with racism invariably have whites as heroes. (Henry Bourgeois)
113) On its surface, "Mississippi Burning" seeks out its audience by exploiting the "buddy cops" convention. . . . But the convention runs into difficulty when the story is imposed on sacred ground, on a landscape that is alive with meaning. Neshoba County, Miss. is to moral memory what the South Bronx is to poverty: places where human suffering has been certified as real. (James Alan McPherson)
114) Movies almost never miss an opportunity for missing an opportunity for fidelity and subtlety. However, Hollywood history can whet appetites for the real thing, and the real story of the 1964 murders is told in Seth Cagin and Philip Dray's book, ''We Are Not Afraid.'' Reading it is a harrowing experience: "Several black corpses were found in Mississippi by authorities searching for Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. . . . One of the saddest discoveries of the season was the body of a never-identified boy, about 14, wearing a CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) T-shirt." That victim would have been about 40 today. His parents are probably living and remembering and wondering. There are so many such silent aches beneath the nation's scar tissue that it is respectful and kind to say: we remember the way it was. "Mississippi Burning" is broadly truthful about the terrifying tone of that time and place. Remembrance of that is necessary. (George Will)
115) The film focuses on two fictional white F.B.I. agents. One, a sensitive Yankee, wants to adhere to lawful procedures; the other born and bred in Mississippi, argues against such fastidious ways. After a cooperative witness is savagely beaten by the Ku Klux Klan, the Yankee relents and both unleash a reign of terror -- threatening suspects with castration and lynching, nicking throats with razors, bashing heads and terrorizing homes. According to John Doar, who prosecuted the Neshoba County case for the Justice Department, the F.B.I. never used such tactics in its investigation. (New York Times)
116) After scores of black people are beaten and their churches burned, Ward and Anderson are finally driven to rage only when Deputy Pell beats his wife. It seems odd, in a movie which the director alleges is about racism, that the pivotal event dramatizing the movie’s main proposition -- that “the rule of law needs the rule of force” -- is the beating of a white woman by her husband. The message conveyed is: it is acceptable to terrorize Afro-Americans (including Afro-American women), but it is not acceptable to assault one white woman. (Sundiata Cha-Jua)
117) Although there were no black FBI agents in Mississippi in 1964, the essential falsehood is the depiction of the FBI in 1964 as foe of those who violently opposed the black struggle for equality. Against the wishes of its director, J. Edgar Hoover, who was then orchestrating a vendetta against Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI had to be forced into protecting the civil rights volunteers in Mississippi and aggressively investigating the disappearance of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner in rural Neshoba County. (Harvard Sitkoff)
118) Why not tell the story of James Chaney and his family? Here was a Mississippi black man whose parents did not want him to get involved, fearing for his death. His break with his family is tension-filled. Then, riding with two whites, he is killed. His family is left convinced that blacks should keep quiet; their son should never have stepped forward. Then they watch their dead son become a national hero. (Juan Williams)
119) Where are the Fannie Lou Hamers, the Anne Moodys, the Amzie Moores, and the other local people who heroically sustained and built the movement in defiance of white terror? In Mississippi Burning, black people are even more like stick figures than Willem Dafoe. They sing movement spirituals like “Precious Lord” (at the beginning) and “Walk On” (at the end), but otherwise they don’t count. (William H. Chafe)
120) Although Mississippi Burning presents itself from its very opening as a film that is antiracist, it organizes its opposition to racism around the character of Agent Ward . . . by structuring the narrative around Ward, the plot is structured through the point of view of privilege. Racism, perpetrated by whites, becomes a problem for whites to solve. (Vincent F. Rocchio)
121) When Philip Dray and I began researching our book, we had little idea of Mississippi in 1964. We had started out to do a book about a famous murder we vaguely remembered, and then we stumbled upon an astonishing fact. It was something we had heard but never fully grasped because it seemed so foreign to America: Mississippi was a terrorist state, maintained by bigots under the specious claim that the Constitution granted each state complete independence. (Seth Cagin)
122) "Mississippi Burning" is just another Hollywood whitewash of the black freedom struggle because it centers on the trials and tribulations of white people . . . on the periphery of the movement while the black civil rights workers who made up the movement are non-existent or relegated to minor roles. (Coretta Scott King)
123) Indeed, the majority of Western film makers have subscribed to this perspective, especially when dealing with blacks in America and Europe, or the peoples of Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Even films ostensibly sympathetic to Third World peoples showcase white heroes pursuing amorous adventures and other fantasies against a backdrop of silent, invisible human beings of different colors or races. (Henry Bourgeois)
124) But what makes Mississippi Burning and the other civil rights films insidious projects of historical falsification, is that rather than centering on white activists and their support of the black freedom struggle, they convert government operatives and agents of the repressive apparatus -- the F.B.I., federal judges, and Justice Department functionaries -- into agents of progressive social change. (Sundiata Cha-Jua)
125) An all-white jury of five men and seven women was selected today in the trial of 18 men accused of conspiracy in the 1964 murders of three young civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Miss. . . . . A number of Negroes were among the more than 200 prospective jurors summoned, and at least 17 were included in the panel from which the 12 were selected. But defense attorneys rejected all the negroes with peremptory challenges. The defense questioned each of the Negroes about membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It sought to get one member of the group discharged for cause, but Judge Cox overruled the move. The judge had asked prospective jurors of both races whether any had engaged in civil rights activities and ordered a young negro woman to step aside when she said she had participated in one march and belonged to the N.A.A.C.P. A white man, under questioning by Robert Hauberg, United States Attorney for southern Mississippi, said he had belonged to the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan "a couple of years ago." He was asked whether this would influence his hearing of the case. "No sir, it sure would not," he replied. Although the man did not become a member of the jury, he was not discharged for cause. (New York Times)
126) Collective memory [as created in films such as Mississippi Burning] refers to the shared memories and recollections of social groups. Both individual and collective memory may at times be in error; both may be distorted and biased. However, distortion and bias in collective memory is of much greater consequence because, as Zelizer (1995) puts it, collective memory is "usable." Shared memories of the past are constructed, nurtured, and invoked as tools to defend political aims, objectives, and realities of the present. What is consistent with the aims, objectives, and desired realities of particular social groups is remembered, commemorated, embellished, and even fabricated. What is inconsistent and, therefore, threatening, is erased, obscured, and "willed absent” . . . The ideological process of containing this [whiteness] legitimation crisis . . . [involves] the manufacture of collective memories of anti-racist struggles that highlight "white" heroes, marginalize "black" agency, and obscure the deeper structure of white capitalist domination. (Kelly Madison)
127) "Mississippi Burning" surveys the geography of racism, sheds light on the dark night of the soul. Director Alan Parker stokes the inferno with cruelty, hatred and charring crosses, then sifts the cold ashes for clues. The mystery, ostensibly about the murder of three young civil rights workers, is the inhumanity of man. (Rita Kempley)
128) It's a famous case. But Mississippi Burning has been chastised (by Chaney's brother and King's widow, among others) for goading audiences into cheering a down-and-Dirty-Harry-style FBI campaign in which the agency, under the directorship of notorious King-hater J. Edgar Hoover, uses the Klan's own illegal vigilante terror tactics against the Klansmen. In so doing, Parker's propaganda picture implies that white liberal vigilantes in the FBI -- not organized coalitions of blacks and whites dedicated to Dr. King's moral policy of non-violence -- were the ones righteously carrying the banner for civil rights in the South during the '60s, ready to fight for the cause at any cost. (Jim Emerson)
129) But the reality itself is powerful. . . . Those of us who did cover the rural Deep South in those days heard that sort of thing, and worse, virtually every day; scarcely a week went by without a burning cross flickering somewhere against the soft velvet backdrop of the Southern sky. It was a time when more than one Mississippi judge was said to wear a black robe by day and a white one by night. (Wayne King)
130) MR DOAR:
Q Can you explain the type of approval for the various types of action of the Klan procedure which you have discussed?
(DENNIS) A Yes, a person would report to the local Klavern and the next meeting after he decided that certain things should be done it would be voted on by the group and if approved then it would be carried out by those who volunteered to carry out and this included cross burnings and occasional beatings, but the elimination was reserved by the ruling of the State Organization and after approval a local Klavern it had to be approved by the state. (Testimony of Delmar Dennis: Direct Examination 2)
131) John Doar presented the closing argument for the government on October 18. Doar told the jury that "this was a calculated, cold-blooded plot. Three men, hardly more than boys were its victims." Pointing at Price, Doar said that "Price used the machinery of law, his office, his power, his authority, his badge, his uniform, his jail, his police car, his police gun, he used them all to take, to hold, to capture and kill." Doar concluded by telling jurors that what he and the other lawyers said "will soon be forgotten, but what you twelve do here today will long be remembered." (Douglas Linder)
132) Forget that everything important the film tries to say about the way the FBI operated is wrong. Forget the artistic license in creating a black agent when the FBI had none. Forget the unlikely metamorphosis in the 60s of a north Mississippi sheriff into an FBI agent of racial compassion. Ignore the inconceivable violation of the chain of command in J. Edgar Hoover's FBI that lies at the center of the movie's story. Pretend that agents used violence against Mississippi lawmen and politicians, whether occasionally or routinely. Concentrate only on the flat-out misinterpretation of what the Freedom Summer was all about. (Hodding Carter)
133) "Mississippi Burning" is certainly the most ambitious attempt to tell the story of the civil rights movement to a broad audience, and in some ways the most flawed. . . . "I think it will have the impact 'Platoon' had," said Michael Medavoy, head of Orion Pictures. . . . "Platoon provoked a lot of discussion. After 'Mississippi Burning' people will be asking, 'how did it happen? Is racism still a question in America?'" . . . "I don't want to preach to the converted," said director Alan Parker. . . . "I want to reach a large audience that's young and ignorant of that period. . . . A blue-collar audience might go for the detective story and learn about this other story." (Jonathan Kaufman)
134) Had the filmmakers followed the fascinating historical record to its conclusion, they could have produced riveting drama while escaping much criticism about the movie’s interpretation. The real Mississippi story was so inherently theatrical that it did not need the degree of fictionalizing that Gerolmo, Zollo, and Parker applied to it. (Robert Brent Toplin)
135) The major players -- Hackman and Dafoe -- are likely Oscar nominees, but I hope attention is paid to McDormand, who could have turned her role into a flashy showboat performance, but chose instead to show us a woman who had been raised and trained and beaten into accepting her man as her master, and who finally rejects that role simply because with her own eyes she can see that it's wrong to treat black people the way her husband does. The woman McDormand plays is quiet and shy and fearful, but in the moral decision she makes, she represents a generation that finally said, hey, what's going on here is simply not fair. (Roger Ebert)
136) As a show of solidarity, the parents of the three young men asked that their sons be buried together. They soon learned, however, that Mississippi state law did not permit integrated cemeteries, so Chaney was buried alone. At Chaney's funeral, David Dennis of CORE said, "If you go back home and sit down and take what these white men in Mississippi are doing to us . . . if you take it and don't do something about it . . . then God damn your souls!" (William Chafe)
137) Journalists engaged the film with contemporary political interests in mind. According to Time’s reporters, both the film and the 1988 election season signaled ongoing systemic racism in the United States and exposed the narrative of racial progress as a myth. By making connections between the film’s racism and the racial and the political climate at the time of the film’s release, reporters drew the need for civil rights out of the past and into the present. Mississippi Burning and press attention to the deaths of Freedom Summer activists thus called for renewed attention to racial injustice. (Kristen Hoerl)
138) An analysis of Mississippi Burning will demonstrate, a "conceptual integration between existing value systems" (Frentz & Rushing, 1978, p. 232) may occur, but not necessarily through the growth of one character during the course of the film. Thus, the following analysis of the film reveals revisions of the SVM [Social Value Model] can yield fruitful insights to a narrative. Moreover, this analysis demonstrates the usefulness of structuralism to critically evaluating rhetorically texts, as well as demonstrating the broader usefulness of mythic criticism. (Susan Brinson)
139) It was wonderful of them [Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner] to volunteer their time. It made a lot of colored people start to think there would be a chance for them. It woke up a lot of people -- both Negro and white. (Fannie Lee Chaney, mother of James, qtd. in Bayless)
140) I[the information about where to find the bodies] came from Ernest Moore, a World War II veteran who had a drinking problem. Here's how Posey recounted the story to the World: "Ernest was a good man, but a veteran will tell you that some of those boys never sobered up after the war. Ernest lived with his widowed mother near the dam site where the bodies were eventually found. Well, one night Earnest was drinking and his momma wouldn't let him in the house. So he went down near the dam and laid under a tree and fell asleep. He woke up kind of early in the morning and he heard Ray Killen. He knew him 'cause he'd heard him on TV. Killen was preaching a funeral. The preacher was asking the Lord to forgive [Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman] for being Jews and Communists, agitators and things like that. Moore thought he was dreaming . . . you know, Moore had had the D.T.s several times but he was saying, 'God almighty, this is my worse case yet.'" Moore walked several miles back to town and fell asleep in front of a dry cleaners owned by Hugh Wolverton, a friend of Posey's. Wolverton was later to tell Posey the exact location of the bodies. (Buford Posey, qtd. in Bayless)
141) The film's developers did not need to stray far from the facts to create a compelling drama. Indeed the individual who first developed the movie project [Chris Gerolmo] intended to design a script that stayed relatively close to the evidence. Over the course of production planning, however, his project began to spin away from history and move considerably into the realm of fiction. By the time Mississippi Burning reached the screen, it had become a melding of sophisticated re-creation and regrettable distortion, exposing it makers to claims that they had abused their artistic license. (Robert Brent Toplin)
142) According to Posey, "[the FBI] searched and drug the Pearl River looking for those civil rights workers. I know personally that they found at least seven blacks killed whose bodies were thrown there by the Klan." Mississippi never brought state charges against any of the Klansmen who committed these crimes. Posey thinks there's a reason for that. "When I was coming up most of the white people in Mississippi didn't know it was against the law to murder a Black person." (Buford Posey, qtd. in Bayless)
143) Miss. Killen told us that three civil rights workers were in jail in Philadelphia, Miss., and that these three civil rights workers were going to be released from jail and that we were going to catch them and give them a whipping. . . . While we were talking, Killen stated that "we have a place to bury them, and a man to run the dozer to cover them up." This was the first time I realized that the three civil rights workers were to be killed. . . . Price stopped his car behind the 1963 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon driven by the Civil Rights Workers and we stopped behind Price's car. . . . Price stated "I thought you were going back to Meridian if we let you out of jail." The Civil Rights Workers stated that they were and Price asked them why they were taking the long way around. Price told them to get out and get into his car. They got out of their car and proceed to get into Price's car and then Price took his blackjack and struck Chaney on the back of the head. . . . Before I could get out of the car Wayne ran past my car to Price's car, opened the left rear door, pulled Schwerner out of the car, spun him around . . . and said "Are you that nigger lover". . . . Wayne had a pistol in his right hand, then shot Schwerner. Wayne then went back to Price's car and got Goodman, took him to the left side of the road with Goodman facing the road, and shot Goodman. . . . At this time Jim Jordan said "save one for me." He then got out of Price's car and got Chaney out. I remember Chaney backing up, facing the road, and standing on the bank on the other side of the ditch and Jordan stood in the middle of the road and shot him. I do not remember how many times Jordan shot. Jordan then said. "You didn't leave me anything but a nigger, but at least I killed me a nigger." (Confession of Horace Doyle Barnette November 20, 1964)
144) The heart of the government's case was presented through the testimony of three Klan informants, Wallace Miller, Delmar Dennis, and James Jordan. Miller described the organization of the Lauderdale klavern and described his conversations with Exalted Cyclops Frank Herndon and Kleagle Edgar Ray Killen about the June 21 operation in Neshoba County. Dennis incriminated Sam Bowers, the founder and Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the KKK of Mississippi. Dennis quoted Bowers as having said after the killing of Schwerner and the two others, "It was the first time that Christians had planned and carried out the execution of a Jew." It was also through Dennis that the government introduced the contents a letter written by Bowers but pretending to be from an official of a logging company referring to the murders as "the big logging operation" and to the suspects of the FBI investigation as "those deep in the swamp." . . . The defense case consisted of a series of alibi and character witnesses. Local residents testified as to the "reputation for truth and veracity" of various defendants, or to having seen them on June 21 at locations such as funeral homes or hospitals. (Douglas Linder)
145) Judge Cox is a native Mississippian, scarcely considered friendly to the civil rights movement. Several years ago he publicly referred to a group of Negro voter registration applicants as "a bunch of chimpanzees." Another factor in obtaining the verdicts may have been the efforts of the jury's foreman, Langdon Smith Anderson, in analyzing the mountains of testimony presented. Mr. Anderson, 52 is an oil exploration operator from Lumberton. He is a kindly looking man with horn-rimmed glasses and brown wavy hair that is turning gray. During the trial he sat in the middle of the second row of the jury box and listened carefully but without expression to the testimony. Mr. Anderson is a member of the State Agricultural and Industrial Board, Mississippi's official development arm. There were about 70 persons in the courtroom besides newsmen when the verdicts were read. Most were members of the defendants' families, and one woman was wiping her eyes before the reading was completed. (New York Times)
146) Rather than helping lessen this nation's woeful ignorance of its racial past, this film does such injustice to the events with which it deals that its ultimate lynching is of history itself. (Harvard Sitkoff)
147) Ward, the government saint, puzzles over evil, like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mocking Bird, but unlike Atticus he ultimately realizes that the strong hand of the government is the only solution to the problem. Henchmen save the day for black southerners, not college students like Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. As Hodding Carter points out, the film cannot stand on such falsifications. Carter sees Mississippi Burning as a house of cards poised upon an incorrect and thoughtless revision of history: “Forget that everything important the film tries to say about the way the FBI operated is wrong. . . . Concentrate only on the flat-out misinterpretation of what the Freedom Summer was all about." Consequently, the film isn’t wish for a civil rights movement; in fact, it is a wish to place the government in the role of savior. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)
148) [Parker's] vision of Mississippi 1964 is of a hell on earth, where bright red and yellow flames continually lick an inky sky, consuming countless black lives. The film is full of terrifying violence by whites against blacks, and none of it is exaggerated. (Seth Cagin)
149) "When this night's over," a citizen declared, "they'll know how Mississippi stands. They'll know we're not gonna take it! Not now or ever! They're not gonna cram niggers into our schools or restaurants, and no more niggers are gonna vote in Mississippi. Martin Luther king may run the rest of the country, but he ain't gonna run Mississippi. And every Communist-atheist-nigger-loving-bearded-Jew-sonofabitch who comes down here looking for trouble is gonna find it!" (William Bradford Huie)
150) Spearheaded by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the project lasted less than three months, from early June until late August. During that time, better than 1,000 people, the vast majority of them white, Northern college students, journeyed South to work in one of the forty-four local projects that comprised the overall campaign. While in Mississippi, the volunteers lived in communal "Freedom Houses" or were housed by local black families who refused to be intimidated by segregationist threats of violence. Their days were taken up with a variety of tasks, principally registering black voters and teaching in so-called Freedom Schools. What this capsule summary misses is the unrelieved fear, grinding poverty, and intermittent violence that beset the project. These elements combined to make the summer a searing experience for nearly all who took part. (Doug McAdam)
151) Come 1964, Mississippi would be swept by a racial firestorm. The long and vicious year centered around that organizers called the Mississippi Summer Project. The rest of the nation called it Freedom Summer, and it would pit the depth of America's bigotry against the height of America's hopes. (Bruce Watson)
152) As a parent of a civil rights worker in Mississippi, you are doubtless even more shocked and upset than I am over the disappearance of CORE staffers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and student volunteer Andrew Goodman on the night of June 21st. On numerous occasions, I and other officers of CORE have pleaded with Robert Kennedy and other officials of the Department of Justice to offer federal protection to persons in the Freedom Summer project. Only a week before the Mississippi tragedy, Jim Peck, the Freedom Rider so severely beaten in 1961, asked Burke Marshall, the head of the Civil Rights Division: "Does somebody have to be killed before the Federal government intercedes?" (James Farmer, qtd. in Ball)
153) The men who planned and committed this murder thought they were acting, not against the state of Mississippi, but for Mississippi against the United States. (William Bradford Huie)
154) "We don't hate niggers," a smiling San Diego woman said. "We just don't want them near us. (Bruce Watson)
155) Project workers represented the "best and the brightest" of the early Sixties youthful idealism. Overwhelmingly drawn from the elite colleges and universities, the volunteers tended to be extraordinarily bright, academically successful, politically active, and passionately committed to the full realization of the idealistic values on which they had been taught America was based. For the most part, they were liberals, not radicals; reformers rather than revolutionaries. (Doug McAdam)
156) On June 21, 1964, voting rights activists James Cheyney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who had come here to investigate the burning of Mount Zion church, were murdered. victims of a Klan conspiracy, their deaths provoked national outrage and led to the first successful prosecution of a civil rights case in Mississippi. (plaque, qtd. in Ball)
157) This murder was no ordinary outrage committed by one human being against another and therefore against a state. It was part of the continuing war between Mississippi terrorists and the United States of America. Once this is understood comprehension of what happened may become easier. (William Bradford Huie)
158) "Negroes are oversexed," a Nevada man said. "They're wild." (Bruce Watson)
159) Yesterday I stood in the spot where my Neshoba County neighbors executed Jim Chaney, Andy Goodman, and Mickey Schwermer 37 years ago last month. It was over 100 degrees in Mississippi just like it was June 21, 1964. Stepping out of an air-conditioned car three tenths of a mile off Highway 19 South on what the FBI called Rock Creek Road, I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous when the Dixie humidity hit my forehead. . . . There is no memorial on the patch of Mississippi road where otherwise "good" family men played out a brutal, shameful, cowardly murder plan on behalf of the state's white majority. . . . Neshoba County has not apologized. It has not yet tried its murderers, although the case is open again. A memorial there probably wouldn't make it through the first night, said my escort. (Dona Ladd, qtd. in Ball)
160) What sets the murderers of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman apart from the Mafia, from Murder, Incorporated, and from the gangsters of movies and television is that basically they are not ordinary criminal types with police records, they don't so it for money, and they think they did right. The crimes against humanity which are hardest to understand, and therefore hardest to punish, have always been those committed by "good" men who thought they were doing the will of God. The Holy Bible is not only present, it is brandished. Murder is done in God's name. In just about every Klan group is at least one hot-eyes, hard-handed preacher eager wash his hard hands in the warm, red blood of infidels and "nigger-lovers." (William Bradford Huie)
161) Mississippi as a society reached a condition which can only be described, in an analogous but exact sense of the word, as insane. (Walker Percy, qtd. in Watson)
162) The dynamic between cinematic amnesia and journalistic memory has implications for the rhetorical dimensions of popular memory. This analysis indicates that the potential for shared memory does not exist exclusively within the terrain of any particular text but through the process of engagement across varied memory sites. The discrepancy between the countermemories that emerged in journalism reviews of Mississippi Burning and those that the narrative of civil rights expressed in the film itself also indicates that the rhetorical implications of cinema lie not only in filmic depictions but in how critics and publics interested in those depictions respond to the movie. (Kristen Hoerl)
163) There is truth here yet simultaneously there is the distortion that is Hollywood. The historical 'inaccuracies' provoked complaints from several quarters - in particular from Blacks who resented their 'passive 'representation given that much was achieved by the grass-roots radicalism in the sixties. Parker's and my, answer to these complaints would be that the film was an attempt at articulating their anger and in movies, as in life, things change slowly. Mississippi Burning was one of Hollywood's finer achievements. (Alan Smithee)
164) It could be that Alan Parker will win an Oscar . . . . It could be that his movies will make him a fortune and that, in the future, he will be acknowledged by the bankers of Hollywood as a director with a box office touch. It might even be that Parker will someday be the subject of a retrospective, complete with lecture series and a scholarly examination of his outtakes. But as far as I'm concerned, Parker is a dangerous man. He doesn't care about the truth. (Richard Cohen)