Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 10, 2010

Neshoba: the Price of Freedom

Filed under: Film,racism,repression — louisproyect @ 6:01 pm

“Neshoba: the Price of Freedom”, the powerful documentary opening at the Cinema Village on Friday in NY and at the Laemmle Music Hall in LA on September 10th, gets its title from the Mississippi County where civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were slain in 1964. Chaney was an African-American from Mississippi while the other two men were New York Jews. There was evidence that Chaney was tortured and then buried alive in the earthen dam where all three were eventually discovered.

Forty years later Micki Dickoff was approached by Ben Chaney, James’s younger brother, about making a movie about what happened in 1964 and about the new trial that was taking place in Philadelphia, the seat of Neshoba County. Unlike its Greek etymological origins, this sleepy town was anything but a place of brotherly love. Dickoff saw the need to move ahead rapidly on the project since Andrew Goodman’s mother, then 88 and in failing health, was still alive as was Fannie Lee Chaney, James’s mother. The Philadelphia Coalition, a group of white and black local citizens, was pressing for justice in the case (the original trial in 1967 had resulted in very light sentences) and national attention was riveted on the efforts to retry one of the few surviving killers, a long-time Klan member named Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen who owned a saw-mill and a part-time pastor in a Baptist Church. He was 80 years old  when he finally stood trial.

The contrast between the two camps could not be sharper. Killen and his local supporters are not shy about voicing their resentment toward the “coloreds”, the Jews, the Communists, the media and anybody else who questioned their right to murder three people in cold blood. The two mothers and their local allies speak passionately about the need for justice in the case, something that won’t bring their children back but that would vindicate their sacrifices.

The final third of the movie was filmed in the courtroom, where we see arguments for punishing the unrepentant Edgar Ray Killen. Local racists rally at the courthouse, including a Klansman. Unlike the case in 1964, Mississippi politicians were disavowing their racist past. At a rally organized by the Philadelphia Coalition, Governor Haley Barbour mouths all sorts of pious sentiments about the need to “move forward”, but this is the same guy who is a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a neo-Confederate group that fights to preserve the Rebel flag on statehouses and other racist causes.

It was patrician members of the White Citizen’s Council like Haley Barbour who while repudiating violence on a pro forma basis in 1964 worked hand in glove with terrorists like Preacher Killen. One of the more shocking revelations in the movie is a television interview with a White Citizen’s Council supporter named Henry Garrett, who is identified as a member of the faculty at Columbia University, my long-time employer. After scraping myself off the floor, I found a wiki on Garret that revealed the following:

Henry Edward Garrett (27 January 1894 – 26 June 1973) was an American psychologist and segregationist. Garrett was President of the American Psychological Association in 1946 and Chair of Psychology at Columbia University from 1941 to 1955. After he left Columbia, he taught at the University of Virginia, where his racial ideas were supported by the dominant state political leadership represented by Senator Harry F. Byrd, who promoted Massive Resistance to school integration.

A.S. Winston chronicles Garrett’s involvement in the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics (IAAEE), the journal Mankind Quarterly, the neofascist Northern League, and the ultra-right wing political group, the Liberty Lobby.

In the 1950s Garrett helped organize an international group of scholars dedicated to preventing race mixing, preserving segregation, and promoting the principles of early 20th century eugenics and “race hygiene.” Garrett was a strong opponent of the 1954 United States Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which he predicted would lead to “total demoralization and then disorganization in that order.”

He is credited with coining the term equalitarian dogma in 1961 to describe the by then mainstream view that there were no race differences in intelligence, or if there were, they were purely the result of environmental factors. He accused the Jews of spreading the dogma, and wrote that most Jewish organizations “belligerently support the equalitarian dogma which they accept as having been ‘scientifically’ proven” (Garrett, 1961).

He wrote in the White Citizens’ Council monthly journal The Citizen, “Despite glamorized accounts to the contrary, the history of Black Africa over the past 5,000 years is largely a blank,” and, “The crime record of the Negro in the United States is little short of scandalous” (Garrett 1968).

Garrett served as a Director of the Pioneer Fund in 1972–1973.

When an institution like Columbia University could have positioned itself as a beacon of liberal values in the 1950s, while having such a racist and neo-fascist running a department, you really have to wonder the school deserved such a reputation. Of course, this is the same university that was in bed with Nazi officials in the 1930s.

Finally, it must be stated that not every rightwing politician made the effort to distance himself from the 1964 murders. Ronald Reagan, the saint of the Republican Party that Barack Obama has lauded as returning the USA “to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing”, made a trip to the Neshoba County Fair in 1980, a place that the film describes as off-limits to blacks unless they were working for a white concessionaire. In that speech, Reagan said:

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

With a virtual White Citizen’s Council member like Reagan running for president in 1980, no wonder people like Edgar Ray Killen felt emboldened to tell the makers of “Neshoba: the Price of Freedom” that the three civil rights workers had it coming to them.

11 Comments »

  1. “Killen”–what a pluperfect name for this thug preacherman. I’m almost afraid to ask how his second trial turned out.

    Comment by Gulfman — August 10, 2010 @ 9:47 pm

  2. {Barack Obama has lauded [Ronald Reagan] as returning the USA “to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing”….}

    I know some were getting tired on a previous lively thread of hearing quotes from Malcolm but I must say that episode of Obama’s — lauding a demented, mean-spirited, reactionary, half-a-cracker like Reagan — is a prime example of that classic old “house negro”.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 10, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

  3. > With a virtual White Citizen’s Council member like Reagan running for president in 1980

    No wonder the “Left” remains in such a state of confusion reliving the glories of the past. Reagan was a politician who understood very well that when you’re on an election campaign through a conservative neighborhood you make comments about “state’s rights” to please the yokels. Then when you’re in office you sign into law the Martin Luther King holiday. Hardly the actions of a “White Citizen’s Council member.” David Horowitz has often made the claim that “Leftists” pump racial issues as if it were 50 years ago because they can’t think of anything else to do. Mischaracterizing Reagan in this way certainly supports that argument.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — August 11, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  4. Then when you’re in office you sign into law the Martin Luther King holiday.

    Reagan initially opposed it but obviously would not refuse to sign a bill that had received a veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate). He was a racist ideologue but he was not stupid. Here’s some other things to consider:

    Some true-life scenes: Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it “humiliating to the South”), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house,” he said, “he has a right to do so.” After the Republican convention in 1980, Reagan travelled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where, in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan. Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared: “I believe in states’ rights”.

    As president, Reagan aligned his justice department on the side of segregation, supporting the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in its case seeking federal funds for institutions that discriminate on the basis of race. In 1983, when the supreme court decided against Bob Jones, Reagan, under fire from his right in the aftermath, gutted the Civil Rights Commission.

    Reagan consolidated the Southern strategy that Nixon formulated in response to the civil rights movement. It is this Republican party that has created the radically conservative Southern presidency of Bush. When Bush’s candidacy was threatened in the Republican primaries of 2000, he rescued himself by appearing at Bob Jones University and wrapping himself in support of the preservation of the Confederate emblem on the South Carolina state flag.

    full: http://www.commondreams.org/scriptfiles/views03/1108-14.htm

    Comment by louisproyect — August 11, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  5. Like I said Patrick, Reagan was a “demented, mean-spirited, reactionary, half-a-cracker.”

    That part of the left you claim “remains in such a state of confusion” over world-historic douchebags like Reagan must include you.

    Ever heard B-MOVIE?

    How about RERON 4 years later?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 11, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

  6. In case a reader’s never had the pleasure of seeing “B Movie” perfomed live, click and turn up your speakers to get a cool groove on, particularly at the 5:40 mark. A more prescient song written about Reagan’s rancid legacy has yet to be written.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 11, 2010 @ 10:47 pm

  7. The decision to have Reagan make his first speech after winning the Republican nomination in 1980 at Philadelphia,MS was meant to send a clear message to his supporters – and opponents – of what he stood for. Similarly, Obama’s first speech after winning the Democratic nomination in 2008 was at the AIPAC convention, where he pledged his support for a united Jerusalem under Israel’s rule, thus almost undermining four decades of alleged US “impartiality” between the Palestinians and the Jewish colonial state until he backed down after having the ruling class’ “party line” explained to him.

    Comment by Dennis Brasky — August 13, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

  8. Right, Brasky. Good point. That speech was the quid pro quo greenlight to the Zionists that they had a dear friend in the White House. Yet one more reason that vote for Obama was a terrible thing to waste.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 13, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

  9. > That part of the left you claim “remains in such a state of confusion” over world-historic douchebags like Reagan must include you.

    No, it includes people like yourself apparently who wouldn’t understand the difference between Franz von Papen and Julius Streicher. The White Citizen’s Council consisted of a bunch of Streichers with no Adolf Hitler to lead them, and Reagan certainly never was it. If we add in the Alzheimer’s and Hollywood then there is more to be said for comparing Reagan with Papen, although their circumstances were very different.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — August 14, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

  10. Honestly, Pat, as a grunt Gringo Grease Monkey, I don’t really know the dif. btwn. “Franz von Papen and Julius Streicher” but I know a racist when I see him and Reagan, like John Wayne & Elvis, were straight up racists. The historical record is all I have as proof.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 14, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  11. […] “Neshoba: the Price of Freedom”, the powerful documentary opening at the Cinema Village on Friday in NY and at the Laemmle Music Hall in LA on September 10th, gets its title from the Mississippi County where civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were slain in 1964. Chaney was an African-American from Mississippi while the other two men were New York Jews. There was evidence that Chaney was tortured and then buried alive in the earthen dam where all three were eventually discovered: here. […]

    Pingback by US pro civil rights artist Frank Cieciorka dies | Dear Kitty. Some blog — April 27, 2013 @ 6:56 am


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