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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Racist crime is history, but injustice lingers

E.R. Shipp New York Daily News

T he elderly man on the train was ranting, expressing in his out-of-control manner what I felt: anger that an old white man, Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted only of manslaughter rather than murder for his role in the lynchings of three young men in Mississippi 41 years ago. The three — Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner — were there for Freedom Summer in 1964 to help black folks register to vote.

Killen’s conviction is something, but it’s not enough. I have absolutely no sympathy for him based on his age, 80. He and his fellow Klansmen never allowed Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman to live beyond their 20s.

The ranting man — Dr. Roach, he calls himself — has been burdened by this and other incidents, most of which went unnoticed to all but the black person on the receiving end of hatred and unbridled power.

I am too polite to rant the way he did. My home training in Georgia was different; but it leaves me no less burdened by what black people have had to survive in order to survive.

I think of two words: Stone Mountain. That’s the town outside of Atlanta where the Ku Klux Klan reorganized in 1915. That’s the town where we black folks living in Conyers, Ga., knew to keep away from, especially after sundown, because of the Klan rallies and the cross burnings.

Black people have lived in and around Stone Mountain since the days when Gen. Sherman was marching to the sea. Blacks, newly freed from legal slavery but still to bear that burden for decades to come, cast their lots with the soldiers from up North. But when the soldiers returned to their lives, blacks were left with theirs in the Stone Mountains of the South. Even before 1915, blacks knew the terror engendered by the nightriders, the men in sheets.

Into the 1960s, I, too, knew this. I remember Miss Stella McCollum sitting on her porch on North Main Street in Conyers, and daring any white man to set foot into that yard, sheet or no sheet. Her shotgun was at the ready.

I wonder if I can tell this story of how much we have overcome without dashing the hopes of younger people who don’t have a clue. I wonder how I can tell them of my fear of Stone Mountain without imbuing them with some kind of guilt that this is now a place attracting lots of black professionals from all over the country.

History? Hey, it’s a thing of the past, isn’t it?

Why I really wanted to rant with Dr. Roach was because of what Ben Chaney, the brother of James, told reporters: Many kids in Philadelphia, Miss., had never even heard of the murders that took place there in 1964, the atrocity that propelled Congress to enact the civil rights laws that gave my black self permission to drink from the same water fountain as a white person.

To anyone under 50 aspiring to live in the Stone Mountains of the nation, that might seem quaint. But look at Dr. Roach, ranter and war veteran. How do you go forward without looking back? How do you go forward while looking back? How do you go forward while never leaving what’s back there?

I have no sympathy for Killen, but I do have sympathy for Dr. Roach, who, as the conductor on the train assured us nervous travelers, was harmless. But I don’t ever want to be harmless or, as was unsaid, irrelevant. History demands that.

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