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Mississippi Burning: A Choctaw Perspective on Racial Violence

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  kavika  •  2 months ago  •  37 comments

By:   Roger Amos (Mississippi Free Press)

Mississippi Burning: A Choctaw Perspective on Racial Violence
"Mississippi Burning" is a historical crime thriller film loosely based on the 1964 murder investigation of three Congress of Racial Equality civil rights workers—James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—who were killed in Philadelphia, Miss., by the Ku Klux Klan. Contributing author Roger Amos, a Neshoba County native, discovered parts of his own Choctaw history during the Civil Rights Movement and this historical investigation after reading about it in history class.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


Roger Amos

  • May 20, 2022

I was taking an American History class at my high school in southeast Alabama, where my family had relocated from here in Neshoba County in 1995. We were on the subject of the Civil Rights Movement, and I still remember that sentence in my textbook: "Three civil rights workers disappeared in Mississippi."

"Huh, I wonder where?" I remember thinking to myself. The textbook didn't elaborate further, only to note that this event led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Still, I became curious.

The City of Montgomery dedicated this Rosa Parks monument, just blocks from the Alabama Capitol building, on Dec 1, 2019. An Indigenous People's Day event occurred here in October 2021 at the precise bus stop where Rosa refused to give up her seat. Photo by Roger Amos

An Alabama history course requirement covered in detail some of the familiar events there such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma-to-Montgomery march. I felt lucky to live in an area where I could visit the city where this history occurred and, it turns out, the same Highway 80 that connects Selma to Montgomery is on the same route that my Alabama family takes to get home to east central Mississippi, just in the opposite direction.

Despite Highway 80 making a bypass route around Selma, we've made it a point a few times to take the downtown route in order to see for ourselves the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Bloody Sunday occurred in March 1965.

Plus, the late Rep. John Lewis was from the town, Troy, where I grew up. Troy University recently renamed a building after him after his death in 2020.

But I didn't learn about the Choctaw's place in Neshoba County civil-rights history until much later.

A Shock in Mississippi


I've alluded in past columns in the Mississippi Free Press that I spent summers visiting my grandma and other family members back in Neshoba County until the school semester started again for the fall, and we then returned to Alabama.

This one particular summer in 2000 I believe, I happened to read the local paper's annual announcement and related historical accounts of what happened in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964. I was floored to find out that the "three civil rights workers (that) disappeared in Mississippi" sentence I read in my history textbook in Alabama had occurred right here in my hometown! I became incensed and was suddenly thirsty to find out more.

I could not believe that, at that point in time, it was just a generation before that all of these events occurred in our county, and not just that. The church local white Klansmen burned was just down the road from my home in the Choctaw community of Bogue Chitto in the county east of Philadelphia. All of my childhood, I had passed the road that led to that church millions of times and never knew of its existence or its significant place in history.

In addition to my awakening, the fictionalized movie that was based on the series of events in Neshoba County included two of our own tribal members as extras to represent the real-life Choctaw man who discovered the three men's burned station wagon off Highway 21 just north of the Bogue Chitto Community.

Barry Davis Jim Sr. has a credit in the movie as simply "Choctaw Man." It is his son, Barry "Movie Star" Jim Jr., who can be seen in the background as a little boy running around. Barry Davis Jim Sr. was an announcer at times for stickball games during the Choctaw Fair, but sadly passed away in June 2014.

Three Freedom Summer workers were investigating the burning of a Black church near Roger Amos' childhood home in the Choctaw community of Bogue Chitto, when they disappeared in June 1964. On Aug. 4, 1964, their bodies were found buried on the secluded property (pictured) of Klansman Olen Burrage not far from the Pearl River Choctaw Indian Reservation in western Neshoba county. Photo FBI

The cover art for the VHS version of "Mississippi Burning" had been in my living room since I could remember. It might have been playing on our TV at one time, but I don't recollect because I didn't pay attention as a child. I just remember seeing that movie along with "Ghosts of Mississippi" along with other native titles like "Dances with Wolves" in my dad's VHS collection.

After learning about the history of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, I had to watch the movie for the first time at 16 years old. I watched it along with some friends of mine at a house in Alabama, the whole time mentioning that the dramatized events occurred in my hometown.

I explained that "Jesup County" is actually Neshoba County, and Philadelphia does not look like the dusty town portrayed in the film. Did it look like that in 1964? I don't know.

Segregation Kept Choctaws Uneducated


In addition to the movie, I discovered the more factual book "Witness in Philadelphia," written by white Philadelphia native Florence Mars. I went to the local library and checked out the only copy that was available. I haven't read the book in 20 years, but what I remember from my reading was the scene at a local store her family owned and this particular Choctaw family who came in and bought items one by one.

Mars wrote that she was curious about their method of careful shopping and spending, and after talking about this book to my mother, she nonchalantly quipped that those tribal members likely didn't know how to count money. True, education was denied to Choctaw tribal members due to segregation during Jim Crow times, and Choctaw Central High School didn't open until 1963. It would take a whole generation later until the education levels of the tribe would finally approach those of our white and Black neighbors. Just this year, the tribe celebrated our first-ever tribal member to obtain a medical degree, Dr. Christina Wallace.

Those in my grandmother's generation, if they so desired to obtain an education, had to leave Mississippi to attend BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) boarding schools. My maternal grandmother, Oneva Thompson, did just that. She attended high school at the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina and returned home to Mississippi to become a teacher's aide at what was then Bogue Chitto Day School in our home community.

Roger Amos' Grandma Oneva Thompson (left) poses with teacher Marjorie Atkinson (right) in a clipping from the March 16, 1978, edition of the Choctaw Community News. Courtesy Roger Amos

I also recollect asking my aunt about that time period. She remembers being a little girl in the 1960s and looking out through the screen door and seeing what could have been U.S. Marines or Army members combing the swamps near Bogue Chitto, either before or after the burned station wagon was found on June 23, 1964, two days after the three civil rights workers disappeared.

Gaining this knowledge, and realizing there was a Choctaw connection to this historical story that was not as well known, I have been on a personal conquest ever since to find the identity of this person (or persons) to see if I possibly could be related.

It is now 2022, and I still don't know the identity of this person, as many MIBURN case files from the FBI are heavily redacted. My search isn't helped by the fact that many people did not discuss it, and apparently even history books just brushed right past the Choctaw role in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

With the current state of affairs in America regarding race, politics and American history curriculum, it is imperative that more history is taught, not less. To be sure, not all history is pleasant to study and face, but is definitely necessary in order to try to heal from generational trauma and look forward to a better future, for all of us.

The story of my home county is more than Black and white.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to azia@mississippifreepress.org. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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Kavika
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Kavika     2 months ago
With the current state of affairs in America regarding race, politics and American history curriculum, it is imperative that more history is taught, not less. To be sure, not all history is pleasant to study and face, but is definitely necessary in order to try to heal from generational trauma and look forward to a better future, for all of us.

Sadly, we seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
1.1  evilone  replied to  Kavika @1    2 months ago

While some people are trying to reverse or even erase unflattering pieces of our history, a large majority of Americans have set themselves against that idea. It didn't work in the past and it's not going to work now or in the future. For that I'm hopeful this moment in populist stupidity will be stuffed back into the back of the closet where it belongs.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.1.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  evilone @1.1    2 months ago
For that I'm hopeful this moment in populist stupidity will be stuffed back into the back of the closet where it belongs.

I'm hopeful as well, because if we stay in the cycle of stupidity our country will be severely damaged.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
1.2  devangelical  replied to  Kavika @1    2 months ago

I was fortunate enough to have 2 history teachers in high school that brought their unique perspective into the classes they taught. mr smith with his civil rights work in the south during the 60's and mr parker who left a restaurant in chicago and inadvertently stumbled into the '68 convention riot. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  devangelical @1.2    2 months ago

You lucked out, devan. Good for you and the teachers.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
1.2.2  devangelical  replied to  Kavika @1.2.1    one month ago

mr parker had a footprint shaped scar on his back from golf shoe cleats worn by a cop. 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
2  JohnRussell    2 months ago

nice article

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  JohnRussell @2    2 months ago

Thanks, JR.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
3  CB    2 months ago

This is just the kind of past problem that I and others have been warning against for the future. At that time in the South, the Klan had the power of local politics and the heft of the white majority to wield against Blacks and other minorities.  Today in the GOP, MAGAs are fighting for the same control over society where they will wield power over "the masses," and recreate the world in our country where "Might makes right" rather than "Rule of Law." 

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
3.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  CB @3    2 months ago
Today in the GOP, MAGAs are fighting for the same control over society where they will wield power over "the masses," and recreate the world in our country where "Might makes right" rather than "Rule of Law." 

Exactly, they want to be able to kill with impunity and reestablish segregation like them or now in NYC.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
3.1.1  CB  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @3.1    2 months ago

If that is sarcasm; you forgot its tag. And since you 'say' you are not part of the MAGA cult I wonder why you bother writing that at all. Enlighten us.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1.2  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Drinker of the Wry @3.1    2 months ago
Today in the GOP, MAGAs are fighting for the same control over society where they will wield power over "the masses," and recreate the world in our country where "Might makes right" rather than "Rule of Law." 

Yes, indeed one only has to look at the various laws they are passing or trying to pass, one has to be blind not to see this populist MAGA movement curtailing rights. 

Exactly, they want to be able to kill with impunity and reestablish segregation like them or now in NYC.

Which has nothing to do with this article nor CBs comment. Your sarcasm, if that's what your trying, is falling flat and adds nothing to the conversation. So first and only warning stay on topic or you will be deleted.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
4  CB    2 months ago

I heard about this case (of course) as it is a part of my distant history as a people-for historical reasons. I didn't know the Native people proximity to the other marginalized people, namely Blacks.  . . . One question I have that 'haunts' me so let me ask it and hopefully get it resolved: Do Native Americans have their own schools now or yet attend "boarding schools" or are they REQUIRED by civil law of the land to go to public schools similar to others?

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  CB @4    2 months ago
Do Native Americans have their own schools now or yet attend "boarding schools" or are they REQUIRED by civil law of the land to go to public schools similar to others?

The boarding school era ended in the 1980s, CB. Currently, NAs go to public school or in the case of a few tribes they have started their own schools and they are certified by the state they are in.

Some tribes have their colleges, our tribe the Red Lake Ojibwe has a college that opened around 5 years ago and they opened a branch in Minneapolis which is around 250 miles south of the main campus. 

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
4.1.1  CB  replied to  Kavika @4.1    2 months ago

Outstanding. Thank you!

 
 
 
sandy-2021492
Professor Expert
5  sandy-2021492    2 months ago

Meta cleaned up in thread @3.1

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
6  CB    2 months ago

Great article. Kavika, I wonder if the Klan considered "agitators" the same as "freedom riders." Throughout my life, I have considered- "agitators" of the period to be college students and volunteers to the cause, while regarding "freedom riders" as involved activist workers.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
6.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  CB @6    2 months ago

[Deleted]

 
 
 
Gsquared
Senior Expert
6.2  Gsquared  replied to  CB @6    2 months ago

The Klan attacked Freedom Riders.  They definitely considered them to be agitators.

The link below describes one instance.

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
7  Mark in Wyoming     2 months ago

Just found the movie on streaming, settling in with some fresh hot chili to watch it.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
7.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @7    2 months ago

I thought it was a good movie with strong performances by Hackman and Dafoe and McDormand.  As I remember there was the typical criticism of a historical drama not following the history close enough and of another movie told from a white perspective and not a black one.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
7.2  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Mark in Wyoming @7    2 months ago
Just found the movie on streaming, settling in with some fresh hot chili to watch it.

It's a good movie.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
8  CB    2 months ago

I can tell you this, finding the identities of the Native Americans who found the smothering station wagon belonging to the three civil rights activists is difficult if not impossible. I wonder if their names are lost to history. It's like they are mentioned as "Native Americans" from a nearby reservation, but not by name.

The article above mentions Barry Davis Jim, Sr. but is kind of ambiguous, to me anyway, whether he was one of the two individuals finding the activists car or just an actor in the movie presentation of the murders.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
9  CB    2 months ago
Was The Freedom Summer A Success?

Voter registration in Mississippi was not greatly impacted by the Freedom Summer. While 17,000 Black Mississippians attempted to register to vote that summer, only 1,200 were successful.

The Mississippi Project did establish more than 40 Freedom Schools serving a combined 3,000 students. The Freedom Summer also raised awareness for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, about which Dr. King said: “If you value your party, if you value your nation, if you value democratic government you have no alternative but to recognize, with full voice and vote, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.”

But at the August 1964 Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, MFDP delegates were refused seats, dealing another blow to organizers who had risked their lives to make a change.


The 1964 KKK really messed it up for Black people. Oddly, the Klan's activity of STATES RIGHTS went too far! And ultimately, the federal government took from the South its control over "the Negro" voting rights with the federal voting rights act.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
10  CB    2 months ago

I am watching, "Mississippi Burning" for the first time right now as I type this comment. I did not know how 'vocal' the producers would allow the Whites in the movie to be. The things these Southern Whites are saying and doing are astounding!  It reminds me of something I am also reading about where the South got its "Cracker" culture.

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
10.1  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  CB @10    2 months ago

Just remember, this is a Hollywood movie where a lot of artistic lic was taken , both in toning down some things and over exaggerating some, it is based on real events but it's more of a story of the 2 fbi agents and how they grow and change during the investigation.

 I did like seeing what happened to the perps in the end though, won't say what, so as to not spoil it for you.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
10.1.1  CB  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @10.1    2 months ago

The interesting thing about this is I know something about the period as I was a child in the 60's that came up near some of these people. What 'speaks' with clarity in the blunt wording of the script of this movie is this: The certainty with which these men and women are speaking out-loud their views and expressions, makes it clear that they believed they had a right to do with Blacks as they saw fit! They spoke and acted against us with no expectation that anybody should come to tell them to act differently.  

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
10.1.2  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  CB @10.1.1    2 months ago

I was only 2 years old in 64, maybe ,depending on the month.

What I take away from the whole thing is there were many factors at play just as today , there are many factors affecting how people in general are and react, and all one can really do in hindsight is try and learn something from itfrom then and every day that hopefully makes them either better or want to be.

Each day is a new day and one with many choices.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
11  CB    2 months ago

In the case of the FBI investigation of these missing activists, when local law enforcement (1964) and locals LIE to the FBI-was it a case of obstruction of justice which carries a penalty of up to five years in jail?

18 U.S.C. § 1001 - U.S. Code - Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 1001. Statements or entries generally

Current as of January 01, 2018 | Updated by  FindLaw Staff

(a)  Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully--

(1)  falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;

(2)  makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation;  or

(3)  makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in  section 2331 ), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.  If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or  section 1591 , then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.

(b)  Subsection (a) does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party's counsel, for statements, representations, writings or documents submitted by such party or counsel to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding.

(c)  With respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, subsection (a) shall apply only to--

(1)  administrative matters, including a claim for payment, a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services, or a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch;  or

(2)  any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate.

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
11.1  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  CB @11    2 months ago

You would have to find the same statute that was in use in 1964, statutes and us codes change and get revised periodically, so for a crime committed in 1964, the laws on the books at that time is what applies , not today's revisions or what the laws are today.

Look at your own post it says right on it , current as of January 2018, that would mean between then and now it could have been changed or revised, that's what lawyers , most likely law clerks and assistants do , make sure everything's current and applicable.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
11.1.1  CB  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @11.1    2 months ago

This is as close as I can get to back-dating this statute/code:

When  Title 18 of the United States Code  was adopted in 1948, [23]  the wording was further simplified and replaced with:

Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry …

From Wikipedia. 

Note it was adopted in this fashion in 1948, what is missing and I have yet to find is the complete statute beyond the ". . . ."

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
11.1.2  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  CB @11.1.1    2 months ago

I think I read somewhere, they go through and revise both periodically, like every few years , and as court cases dictates a change is needed due to constitutionality.that also does not preclude the legislature from changing it while they are in session, congress can change it as they see fit.

I can be wrong though.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
11.1.3  CB  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @11.1.2    2 months ago

I think I might have found the whole statue of 1948 in a case for 1969:

Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001 provides:

"Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Best I can do so far. Now back to the "movies"!  :)

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
12  CB    2 months ago

I have often wondered especially about the culture of the South. That is, why were some Whites so brutal towards other Whites and especially worse towards Blacks: This is what I found in "Black Rednecks and White Liberals"  James Sowell. 2005.Encounter Books (Pg. 9):

"The actions of southern courts often amazed outsiders." Professor McWhiney said. But what may be even more revealing of widespread attitudes were the cases that never even went to trial. As another study of white Southerners put it:
To many rural southerners, rather than a set of legal statutes, justice remained a matter of societal norms allowing for respect of property rights, individual honor, and a maximum of personal independence. Any violation of this pattern amounted to a breach of justice requiring a specific response from the injured party. Upon learning that a youthful neighbor had approached his wife in an overtly friendly manner Robert Leard of Tangipaboa, Louisiana promptly tracked the young man down and killed him. Under the piney-woods code of justice, anything less would have invited shame and ridicule upon the Leard family.  (Bolding -CB.)

There are other accounts like the one listed above in Sowell's book on southern Cracker culture. The southern man apparently frequented banded together to take actions that may not be lawful, but where part of the 'code' of the South. Crackers, btw, were a type of Celtic people which came 'over' to the United States and they brought a code, a way of living there, to the early U.S.

(This last point I may have to 'clean up' as I am going from memory and its getting late. More on it later.)

My takeaway: Cracker culture in the South was Whites being hard on themselves. And even worse on people they once considered their property—the Blacks. Especially when they felt those Blacks were not properly honoring them. For that reason, "Mississippi Burning" has a level of validity to its use of terms and actions from the "old South." And as we can see from this article: The Southern Whites of the 60's did not want "agitators" or activists from the North coming down South and "dissing" them. It was enough to get a person beat, maimed, tortured, and murdered. And a White Southerner would feel justified in having done so.

 
 

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