Mississippi Burning FAQ
I have had the opportunity to speak to groups around the country and media around the world about our efforts to reopen the Mississippi Burning Case. I know that many students, teachers, and reporters have used our site for information and research. If you have a question, you can always reach me through the ‘Contact Us’ button above. To read more about the case and our role in it, click here. To see some of the TV news coverage we received, click here.
Here are some of the questions I have been most frequently asked. I will emphasize that these answers are mine and do not necessarily represent those of Jerry Mitchell or the students.
Q. What was it like to interview Klan Leader Edgar Ray Killen?
A. In a word: surreal! To listen to me discuss that important and odd interview with Preacher Killen, click here. On on the surface, we had a pleasant and interesting conversation. On a deeper level, it was unsettling, to say the least, to speak with a man who had organized the murder of three men we had come to care deeply about. And his views were certainly extreme.
Q. What was your reaction when you heard Killen had been convicted?
A. It was a complicated reaction. Obviously, his guilt was clear. Yet his co-conspirators were not charged, which upset many of the people who worked on the case. And while I thought it was very important that he went to prison, I was sad that he expressed no remorse and that he had been allowed to walk free for 40 years.
Q. Did you receive any death threats because of your work?
A. No. We did receive extremely unsettling phone calls and several racist web sites wrote about us in an extremely negative way. At one point, we did take some additional security measures, but we did not feel as if we were in danger. Jerry Mitchell, on the other hand has been threatened many times.
Q. How did the Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman families react to you?
A. At first, they were polite but understandably skeptical of the impact that a high school teacher and three students could have. Over time, we became very close with Ben Chaney and Dr. Carolyn Goodman. Shortly after walking out of the courthouse when the verdict was announced, Ben Chaney called me to thank me for my efforts and those of the ‘Superhero Girls’ who had done so much. Dr. Goodman sent me a beautiful letter, which I will always treasure, in which she thanked us for all of the work we had done to get the case reopened.
Q. How did the deaths of Mrs. Chaney and Dr. Goodman after the trial ended affect you?
A. After Dr. Goodman’s death, her wonderful family invited the students to speak at her memorial service in New York City. Watching them on the same dais as Mayor Bloomberg, Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bob Herbert of the New York Times, and Ben Chaney was very powerful to me and a memory I’ll long remember. Unfortunately, when Mrs. Chaney passed away, we were not able to attend the service, although we exchanged heartfelt and touching notes with Ben Chaney. Both Mrs. Chaney and Dr. Goodman were wonderful women and are sorely missed.
Q. Did the students win first place at National History Day?
Q. Can I get a copy of the documentary?
A. Please contact me.
Q. Can you bring us up to date on what everyone is doing since the trial?
A. Killen is still in prison and his lawyer has since been disbarred. Jerry Mitchell continues to write for the Clarion – Ledger and his reporting has led to more investigations of unresolved cases. Allison, Brittany and Sarah each graduated from major universities and are doing wonderfully well. We don’t see each other often, but with e-mail we can always catch up quickly. I have retired from teaching and do public speaking for a living. If you would like me to speak to your students or your organization, please click here. I am currently working on a book. I am also on Linkedin and Twitter (@Barry1776), so feel free to contact me there.
Q. Did you work on any other cases?
A. Yes, I worked with Jerry Mitchell on the reopening of the Clyde Kennard case. With the help of the amazing Professor Steven Drizin of the Northwestern University Center On Wrongful Convictions, we were able to overturn the wrongful conviction of an innocent man who was sent to prison because he tried to integrate the University Of Southern Mississippi. I am very proud of our work on that case.
Q. Did the students all get a grade of A in their classes because of their work?
A. They did not receive any grade or academic credit for their work! They did it as an extracurricular project! Allison and Sarah continued to produce great documentaries for subsequent National History Day contests and each has stayed involved with the National History Day program.
Q. Where do they go to school? What are their majors? What careers are they pursuing?
A. For reasons of privacy, I never reveal any personal information about the students. Suffice it to say that they all excelled in school and are socially responsible, happy and very successful in their careers.
Q. How did the students manage to get so many interesting and famous people to do interviews?
A. I would track down the leads, do a long “pre-interview” and arrange a time for them to talk. Because I was both helping the students and working with Jerry Mitchell, the Mississippi Department Of Justice and members of Congress, I often had numerous follow-up calls with potential witnesses and those who had important information. The students then did brief interviews for their documentary. I found people to be very receptive and helpful!
Q. Did the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office use your materials in the preparation of their case?
A. Yes. We know that they made great use of my exclusive interview with Killen. We also supplied them with other potential witnesses, leads and information. We do not know how they used that information, but they were effusive in their praise of our efforts.
Q. Were you a witness in the trial of Edgar Ray Killen?
A. No. I was on the witness list and had been debriefed several times in preparation, but ultimately I was not called.