Cover image for Murder in Mississippi : United States v. Price and the struggle for civil rights
Murder in Mississippi : United States v. Price and the struggle for civil rights
Ball, Howard, 1937-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, [2004]

Physical Description:
xv, 171 pages ; 22 cm.
Driving on Highway 19 to Philadelphia, Mississippi -- Genesis : Mississippi and the struggle for racial equality -- COFO'S "Mississippi Freedom Summer" project : the battle line is drawn -- Informants and indictments -- U.S. v. Price in the U.S. Supreme Court -- The trial in Federal District Court -- Is there justice in Mississippi?

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KF224.M47 B35 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Few episodes in the modern civil rights movement were more galvanizing or more memorialized than the brutal murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney--idealists eager to protect and promote the rights of black Americans, even in the deep and very dangerous South. In films like Mississippi Burning and popular folk songs, these young men have been venerated as martyrs. Even so, the landmark legal dimensions of their murder case have until now remained largely lost.

Howard Ball reminds us just how problematic the prosecution of the murderers--all members of the KKK--actually was. When the State of Mississippi failed to indict them, the U.S. tried to prosecute the case in federal district court. The judge there, however, ruled that the federal government had no jurisdiction and so dismissed the case. When the U.S. appealed, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court decision, claiming that federal authorities did indeed have the power to police civil rights violations in any state. United States v. Price (1967) thus produced a landmark decision that signaled a seismic shift in American legal history and race relations, for it meant that local authorities could no longer shield racist lawbreakers.

Ball weaves the tales of victims and perpetrators into a single compelling story in which the legal process becomes as much personal as political. Readers will learn how deputy sheriff Cecil Price and his accomplices planned the execution of the young freedom riders and how prosecutors and judges brought them to justice under conspiracy charges. Along the way, Ball introduces readers to a host of characters from the heyday of the civil rights era--with the NAACP, CORE, and SNCC on one side, and the KKK and its fellow travelers on the other, and politicians sitting squarely on the fence.

Although to this day the murderers have never faced murder charges, United States v. Price emphatically declared that the federal government would no longer tolerate the complicity of local and state authorities in the suppression of the constitutional rights of southern blacks. As we approach the fortieth anniversary of the murders in June 2004, Murder in Mississippi provides a timely and telling reminder of the vigilance democracy requires if its ideals are to be fully realized.

Author Notes

Howard Ball, professor of law at Vermont Law School and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Vermont

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In June 1964 three civil rights activists--Jim Chaney, Andy Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner--were killed in Mississippi by known parties who, to this day, have never been tried for murder. Eighteen Klansmen were tried, seven convicted of lesser civil rights violations, and the main conspirator let go under United States v. Price. Although the state has the right and the evidence to prosecute, it has not chosen to do so for the last 36 years. Ball recounts the legal obstacles that led to the unprecedented conviction of whites for violating the rights of blacks. He focuses on the summer of 1964, when civil rights organizations such as CORE, SNCC, and SCLC brought to Mississippi huge numbers of white college students to work with black college students and local activists on a voter registration drive. Although the legal landmark decision remains important, the murderous resistance by the Klan was a situation the nation could no longer ignore. This is a powerful look at the forces that forged the civil rights movement. --Vernon Ford Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

A former Mississippi State University professor delivers an impassioned chronicle of an infamous crime in this unevenly crafted, but serviceable, history. In 1964, after a Ku Klux Klan leader ordered the killing of Michael Schwerner, a white activist working on the Freedom Summer voter registration and education campaign, Schwerner and two of his co-workers, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were arrested, released and lynched near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The crime led to the landmark 1966 Supreme Court case United States v. Price-in which justices ruled that 18 Klansmen could be charged with conspiracy to violate the three victims' civil rights. Eventually, seven of these defendants were found guilty in a federal district courtroom, producing Mississippi's first 20th-century civil rights convictions. Ball skillfully dissects the uphill fight faced by the FBI and the Justice Department during these trials, and he offers keen observations on the "feral prejudices" of the state organizations that encouraged terrorizing attacks on African Americans and their allies. Inexplicably, however, the Supreme Court case highlighted in the book's subtitle is neglected in favor an indignant recounting of the subsequent trial in Mississippi. At times, the book feels like an avenging crusade designed to aid those who would like the state to try the remaining living Klansmen. Ball rebukes those who would prefer not to rekindle the ashes of the "Mississippi Burning" by levying new murder charges, declaring that "it is past time for a final accounting.... There cannot be any peace or rest until justice is done." Though the book's descriptions can be somewhat repetitive, it nonetheless makes a good resource for anyone who wants a quick re-cap of all the facts of this complicated historic case. (Apr. 16) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

An hour before midnight on June 21, 1964, Ku Klux Klansmen murdered civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James E. Chaney, and Andrew Goodman on Highway 19 outside Philadelphia, MS. Ball (Vermont Law Sch.) looks at the place and time fictionalized in the Oscar-winning film Mississippi Burning. Underscoring the frustrating irony of a nation reaching back to Civil War-era laws to protect civil rights workers nearly a century later, Ball deftly pivots the story on the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous 1966 decision in U.S. v. Price to overturn federal district court rulings dismissing indictments against 18 klansmen on counts stemming from the three murders. (In 1967, seven were convicted of conspiracy but none for murder-a state charge that Mississippi has steadfastly refused to pursue.) In time for the 40th anniversary of these infamous murders, this is another gem in the "Landmark Law Cases" series and deserves a place in any serious collection on U.S. history, law, civil rights, and race relations. Highly recommended.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Ball offers a superb account of United States v. Price, a case that began during the turbulent "Freedom Summer" of 1964 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Three young men went south that summer to participate in the voting registration drive and were murdered for their efforts. Ball (Univ. of Vermont) recounts the events that led to their murder and its legal aftermath. Although indictments for the charge of "conspiring to violate civil rights" were eventually filed against several Ku Klux Klan members, a sympathetic federal magistrate and judge dismissed the charges. The case might have ended there, except for the fact that the murders received national publicity. The US Department of Justice appealed the district court's decision, and in 1966 in US v. Pierce, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the dismissal of the indictments. Eventually 18 Klansmen were convicted of conspiracy. Despite repeated appeals from the murdered men's families, public acknowledgement of guilt by some of those involved, thousands of pages of data from FBI files, and occasional halfhearted initiatives by local officials, murder charges were never filed. The author, who lived in Mississippi for many years, tells this sad story with grace and quiet passion. The book reveals the fragility of law. Well written and accessible. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General audiences; lower-division undergraduates through researchers. M. M. Feeley University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents

Editors' Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1. Driving on Highway 19 to Philadelphia, Mississippip. 3
2. Genesis: Mississippi and the Struggle for Racial Equalityp. 12
3. COFO'S "Mississippi Freedom Summer" Project: The Battle Line Is Drawnp. 44
4. Informants and Indictmentsp. 79
5. U.S. v. Price in the U.S. Supreme Courtp. 101
6. The Trial in Federal District Courtp. 119
7. Is There Justice in Mississippi?p. 138
Chronologyp. 151
List of Relevant Casesp. 157
Bibliographical Essayp. 159
Indexp. 163