During “Freedom Summer,” 1964, three brave young men, James E. Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and and Andrew Goodman volunteered through the Congress Of Racial Equality (“CORE”) to help African Americans in Mississippi gain the right to vote. The Ku Klux Klan, aided by local police, kidnapped and brutally murdered J.E., Mickey, and Andy. An intense FBI investigation known as “Miburn” (which is short for “Mississippi Burning”) led to the discoveries of the bodies and the identities of the killers. While a handful of brave whites in Mississippi, such as heroic newspaper editor, Stanley Dearman, called for justice, many more merely turned away.
The U. S. Department of Justice appointed one of the true legal heroes of the twentieth century, John Doar, to bring Federal charges (of Civil Rights Violations) against the killers. Against tremendous odds, Mr. Doar’s successful prosecution led to convictions against many of the conspirators.
However, after 40 years, the killers had never been charged with murder.
In 2002, award-winning school teacher and public speaker Barry Bradford began collaborating with Jerry Mitchell, known as America’s greatest investigative reporter, to formulate a strategy to get the Mississippi Burning case reopened. Mitchell had been writing about the case for six years. Bradford guided three of his students to work on the case as their “project” for National History Day. The combined efforts of Bradford, Mitchell, and the three students produced new evidence that would be used in the trial of Edgar Ray Killen.
New evidence in the “Mississippi Burning” case was brought to light by Barry Bradford, Jerry Mitchell, Nichols, Saltiel, and Siegel. This information was crucial to the decision to reopen the case by the prosecution.
- Barry Bradford convinced Edgar Ray Killen, the mastermind of the plot to kill Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, to do his first recorded, on the record interview about the killings. That tape proved invaluable to the investigators trying to decide whether to prosecute. It was also used extensively in the preparation of the prosecution’s case. Bradford was on the witness list to testify for the prosecution, if necessary, as a result.
- Bradford and the students uncovered several important potential leads and new witnesses. All of this information was turned over the law enforcement.
- Working with information provided by Bradford, added to his immense research and unparalleled knowledge of the case, Jerry Mitchell was able to uncover the identity of the mystery informant as “Mr. X”. He was the man who tipped the FBI as to the location of the bodies of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman.
- The students produced an award-winning ten minute documentary for the National History Day contest and have done countless interviews on the case. Those interviews and the website created by Bradford generated tremendous pressure for the reopening of the case.
Gathering Public/Congressional Support
In order to gain support to reopen the case, Barry Bradford and the students lobbied Congress. Bradford’s speech at a Congressional Breakfast successfully convinced Congress to pass a resolution calling for the reopening of the case. We were honored that Congressman John Lewis, a great hero of the Civil Rights Movement, was our chief sponsor.
When questions were raised as to whether it was a good use of taxpayer money and government time to reopen such an old case, Barry Bradford worked with John Zogby to create a scientifically accurate national poll that showed overwhelming support for our efforts. This helped convince the Mississippi media and government to act.
It was essential to have the support of the three Civil Rights workers’ families. Bradford and his students actively worked with the Chaney and Goodman families to get the case reopened and had the strong support of Michael Schwerner’s brother, Steven.
Ben Chaney, the younger brother of James, called the students, “The Superhero Girls”. Dr. Carolyn Goodman, Andy’s mother, said to Mr. Bradford “I feel like you have brought Andy back into this house” when the students interviewed her there. After her death, the students were invited to speak at the powerful memorial service for Dr. Goodman.
We have been fortunate to have coverage from many national and international news media broadcasts, including the national NBC “Today Show” (Alexis Glick), and on the CBS Evening News (Cynthia Bowers), ABC National News (Nancy Wiener), Righttalk Radio, the Central China Television Network, and the BBC (British Broadcasting System.)’ Locally, CBS -TV (Mike Parker) ABC-TV, WGN- TV and NBC-TV covered our efforts, as have over a hundred newspapers on four continents!
Click on the links to read articles from “Parade” Magazine, The United Methodist Reporter, The Times Of London, and The Chronicle Of Higher Education for their coverage. There are also videos which will show you some of the coverage of our efforts.
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Jerry Mitchell is a brilliant, multiple award winning investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion Ledger. More than anyone, Jerry Mitchell deserves the credit for getting the Mississippi Burning Case reopened. Mitchell, who has done more than any man alive to reopen “cold cases” from the Civil Rights Movement, is generous in his assessment of our efforts:
“Starting in 2002, Barry Bradford did a brilliant job in helping to create the momentum to reopen the Mississippi Burning case. Allison Nichols, Brittany Saltiel and Sarah Siegel pushed this case forward in early 2003, long before many others did. Bradford interviewed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, identified in testimony as overseeing the trio’s killings, an interview in which Killen called the slain trio “communists.”
They interviewed authors, historians, family members and others associated with the case. They pored over FBI files and the transcript of the trial.
And when the 40th anniversary of the killings took place in Neshoba County, they were guests of honor at the anniversary ceremony in Mississippi.
The students deserve tremendous praise for taking on this project, and historian Taylor Branch said their work reminded him of the young people who took part in the first sit-ins in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.”
“Preacher” Killen has been convicted. Seven other conspirators were not even charged. And many other unresolved murder cases from the Civil Rights Era need to be reopened. The tireless Jerry Mitchell is still on their trail and we hope he is successful.
Is The Movie Accurate?
Is “Mississippi Burning” accurate? Click here for more.