The murder of three civil rights activists in 1964 that inspired the film "Mississippi Burning" never led to murder charges until today, when former Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen was brought into a Mississippi courthouse.
Ku Klux Klan Leader Charged in 40-Year-Old Triple Murder
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
NBC News IN DEPTH tonight, call it justice delayed. A 79-year-old man and reputed former leader of the Klan was brought into a Mississippi courtroom today to answer for a notorious crime, the killing of three voter registration workers that stunned the nation over 40 years ago. IN DEPTH tonight, here is NBC's Don Teague.
DON TEAGUE reporting:
It's one of the darkest chapters of the civil rights era. In 1964, three activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi, were ambushed and shot to death, allegedly by members of the Ku Klux Klan. But despite a 1967 trial in federal court that convicted seven alleged Klan members for conspiracy, murder charges were never filed. Jewel McDonald's mother and brother were attacked and severely beaten by the Klan.
Ms. JEWEL McDONALD: This was murder, and we got a cloud hanging, a dark cloud hanging over our head. We need to clear that up.
TEAGUE: McDonald moved away but returned 10 years ago and formed a coalition to demand investigators reopen the case.
Ms. McDONALD: How you all doing?
Unidentified Man #2: They liberated all of us.
TEAGUE: Hundreds commemorated the 40th anniversary of the killings last June, and a donor pledged a $100,000 reward. James Prince is editor of Philadelphia's newspaper.
Mr. JAMES PRINCE: We can never bring the--the three men back, but we can seek justice.
TEAGUE: And today at the Neshoba County courthouse, 79-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was charged with three counts of murder.
Mr. EDGAR RAY KILLEN: Not guilty.
TEAGUE: The former Klan leader pleaded not guilty. Most people we've spoken with here today say Philadelphia has changed, and they welcome the murder charges. But for some here, emotions are still raw.
Unidentified Man #3: You better shut up, buddy.
TEAGUE: Media attention angered a few at the courthouse, among them a man who says he's Killen's brother. He charged a camera crew. And a bomb threat prompted officials to evacuate part of the building. Prosecutors say no further arrests are planned in the killings, which has some of the victims' families worried.
Mr. BEN CHANEY (James Chaney's Brother): I'm still concerned whether or not Killen is still going to be used as a scapegoat to protect the rich and powerful individuals that was involved in this murder.
TEAGUE: A case that may never truly be closed. Don Teague, NBC News, Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Founded in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) extended into almost every Southern state by 1870 and became a vehicle for white Southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks.
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