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Truth and Reconciliation in Neshoba County

Arecia Steele, 73, reflects on changes in Neshoba: "I used to hear my granddaddy talk about how to hang them up on the limb. Thank you, Jesus, you don't find that no more."
Marisa Penaloza, NPR /
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Arecia Steele, 73, reflects on changes in Neshoba: "I used to hear my granddaddy talk about how to hang them up on the limb. Thank you, Jesus, you don't find that no more."

This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of Mississippi's most notorious civil rights murder cases. On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers, in Mississippi for "freedom summer," were killed after traveling to Neshoba County to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion, a black church. No one has ever been charged with murder in the case, even though federal agents identified a local group of Ku Klux Klansmen as the killers.

Most of the suspects are now dead, but some still live in town -- most notably, Edgar Ray Killen, the alleged leader of the Klan klavern that chased down the civil rights workers, took them to a quiet county road and shot them. For years, the history of Neshoba County's racial violence was hushed up -- not taught in schools, or talked about in upstanding white families.

But as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, a task force of black and white citizens in Philadelphia, Miss., the Neshoba County seat, is trying to come to grips with the community's legacy. The group wants to publicly apologize and is calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

"I'm not one for asking that a 90-year old be sent to jail," says Jewell McDonald, who left Mississippi in 1964 and stayed away for 30 years. "But just stand up and recognize what you did."

NPR Producer Marisa Penaloza contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.