If you are interested in “transitional justice” in Kenya, or South Sudan or Sudan, here are recent stories about that some of that process in Mississippi and in nearby Alabama.
Start with a review here from Emory University historian Joseph Crespino in The Wall Street Journal, “Race Against Time review: a reporter for justice.” And from Dean Jobb at the Southern Review of Books: “The journalist who helped solve Mississippi Burning murders”:
Think Spotlight meets All the President’s Men. Mitchell, a born storyteller with a remarkable story to tell, recreates his investigation with the absorbing detail and in-the-moment feel of a police procedural. Readers are along for the ride as he tracks down leads, forges ahead after demoralizing setbacks, and extracts nuggets of information from reluctant sources. They share the sense of victory as key pieces of information come to light and when he finally gets his hands on documents long hidden or long forgotten.
Thanks to his revelations and the public pressure his stories created, prosecutors reopened these cases and secured long-overdue convictions of the surviving killers. Sam Bowers, a former Klan leader, was finally convicted imprisoned in 1998 for ordering the attack that killed Vernon Dahmer. In 2005, eighty-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in the murder of the three civil rights workers in the Mississippi Burning case.
Mitchell discovered that his own paper had promoted segregation in the 1960s and had helped the Klan to discredit supporters of the civil rights movement. The Clarion-Ledger had cleaned up its act by the 1990s – collecting a Pulitzer Prize for its advocacy of educational reforms – and to its credit, published Mitchell’s exposés of its own odious past.
Race Against Time underscores the importance of solid, fearless, public-spirited journalism – something more vital than ever in our time of social media distraction and self-serving dismissals of uncomfortable truths as “fake news.” It’s a call to arms against the resurgence of white supremacy and hate crimes. Most of all, Mitchell’s inspiring story of how he told truth to power is a reminder that it’s never too late to do the right thing.
And here is the link to buy a signed first edition from an acclaimed Jackson, Mississippi bookstore where author Jerry Mitchell will do an event on March 18.
I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1991 from Nashville, Tennessee after law school (with a letter of introduction from the Republican Party in Tennessee to the Republican Party in Mississippi). I joined the Bar after taking the exam in Jackson where Jerry Mitchell was based and in the early years of the pioneering work at the Clarion Ledger newspaper that he recounts in Race Against Time. My only previous trip to the capital city had been to advance a presidential campaign event back during my first year of law school. I spent the rest of the decade having some grand adventures in the private practice of law in the places where “Race Against Time” is set, along with marrying, starting a family, and serving on the local GOP County Committee and a term as President of the local Republican Club. And learning about the history of Mississippi and civil rights from lots of great writing of that era covering especially events of the 1960s, and from the investigative journalism of Jerry Mitchell and the proceedings in the prosecutions of the “cold cases” that he helped to prod to life.
Unfortunately I have yet to meet Jerry Mitchell, but I know the towns and courthouses that he writes about (and I will certainly hope to meet him someday–he is on a very active national book tour now). He posts on Facebook daily moments of history from the Civil Rights Era, which I recommend. I often share them, with the thought that by remembering that necessary changes like voting rights for African Americans that we want to take for granted (or chisel at for reasons of partisanship) do not happen by themselves and that even people who are too “conservative” to like “the liberals” end up incorporating part of the fruits of their labor, because there are always things that need to “change” or be “reformed” just as there are things to be “conserved”, preserved (or pickled and fried as the case may be).
Let me give a shout here to my lovely wife who bought me the book for Valentines Day (and who brought me to Mississippi and into her family and all the great adventures of the American South). I avoid mentioning my family here for the most part just for privacy sake but just have to indulge here. Don’t blame her or our children for how I am.
And here is the link to Jerry Mitchell’s Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.