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home : editorial : editorial October 3, 2015

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6/18/2014 6:00:00 AM
EDITORIAL/Mt. Zion's hallowed ground

In an emotional gathering on Sunday, family members of three young men murdered in Neshoba County 50 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan registering blacks to vote gathered with heroes of the civil rights movement at the tiny church burned to lure them here.

Neshoba County native Dick Molpus said it best when he called the place "hallowed ground." It was Molpus, who in 1989, issued the first apology to the families that began a decade and a half of transformation in Neshoba County that would ultimately lead to a call for justice and criminal conviction in the case 41 years to the day.

The church, Mt. Zion United Methodist, was instrumental during the Freedom Summer of 1964 in the black voter registration effort. On June 16, 1964, the Klan burned the church and members were beaten, some severely.

The young men, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were remembered on Sunday for their sacrifice, as they have been remembered by the congregation every year since their deaths.

"I consider Mt. Zion to be hallowed ground in my home county," said Molpus, who served as Mississippi Secretary State from 1983 to 1995. Molpus said he spent Saturday walking around Mt. Zion with Andrew Goodman's brother David. They walked through and "felt the presence of what happened here," he said.

"If you ever think that you have issues that need some courage, take a few minutes, walk around Mt. Zion, walk through the graveyard. Go where the Coles are buried, where the Rileys, the Kirklands, the Clemons, the Steeles, the Rushes and you'll feel that presence," Molpus said.

"For someone who's lived in this town, was born in this town, looking at this audience, the arch of history is bent toward justice."

The murders gained international attention because Goodman and Schwerner were white. The murders helped lead to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Walter Cronkite's CBS broadcast on June 25, 1964, called the disappearances "the focus of the whole country's concern."

The details are chilling and subject of the fictional 1989 movie "Mississippi Burning."

The trio investigated the church burning and while driving back into Philadelphia were arrested for speeding and jailed. They were released that night and pursued by a mob that included law enforcement. They were taken to a remote county road and shot at point-blank range.

Keynote speaker U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who bears scars visible today from a police beating at the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., said Neshoba County is still teaching people in the world that "you can lay down the burden of division."

Indeed, we are more comfortable in our own skin talking about the past, acknowledging the sin and looking forward at how we can all work together for a better Neshoba County, realizing we're all creatures of God.

Visitors from all around the world will continue to be in Neshoba County this week to mark the June 21 anniversary, what many consider the Pearl Harbor of the civil rights movement.

Again, to our visitors walking the hallowed grounds, we say: Welcome!

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