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.
Some thoughts from the King holiday this week:
MLK became a Christian teacher for me through his writings when I was a young lawyer and a newly adoptive Mississippian in the 1990’s. I also learned a lot of the history of Civil Rights and the South through Taylor Branch’s voluminous King biographies among my other more Mississippi-specific reading. I used material from Rev. King to guest teach a couple of my Sunday School classes in Mississippi.
This was not that long ago by the timeframes of my life but before smartphones and “social media.” Also before any of us knew of Barak Obama, before my year in Kenya, and while I was still a “lifelong” Republican if drifting away in part because of some of the demands of my own faith.
King’s ministry and leadership had a long arc with a slow rise. We have learned that the FBI tried to stop him at an intermediate point but failed. His influence in some important respects peaked over years after his murder. He did not convince the majority of Southern whites in his lifetime that he was substantially right about the biggest things, but eventually he did.
Now he is a statute off the mall in Washington and a great source of quotes for all occasions and whatever purpose but we can hardly stop and think and/or pray and talk through the differences in how we see our country around us.
I am afraid that today someone like King would be delegitimized and marginalized long before he or she could lead us to change.
Likewise, the less currently “popular” parts of his message might further overwhelm those that were eventually heard. And we could not hear a Christian minister today as we eventually came to hear him.
Today, it would not seem feasible to pass morally challenging legislation like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act with bipartisan support and against bipartisan opposition because we do not allow ourselves to accept leadership of that type from outside politics and the people that we elect are not leaders at that level.
And now we find ourselves beset with contentions and backlash after years in which many of us assumed that continued steady if slow progress was assured. We have what seems to me an extraordinary partisan divide in which the vast majority of Republicans see racial discrimination against African-Americans as mostly a solved issue and “reverse discrimination” as more salient while the vast majority of Democrats see it in a more “traditional” frame.
As a moderately conservative white adoptive Southerner, “my people” are now very much oriented to the Republican side of politics but I cannot understand my day-to-day world in a way that inverts the racial discrimination burden and it is a struggle for me to know how to address myself to this gap of perception. We made tremendous progress during my lifetime and it is vital to recognize that–and to recognize the toil, sacrifice and courage of those like King that were necessary for the country to accomplish that. But you cannot just declare “peace with honor” and pretend that things cannot come apart because you do not want to deal with the challenge any more.
[Update March 25–readers have asked how much Kenyan taxpayers are giving the Podesta Group. According to the Justice Department filings, the current 1 year contract through May 2016 costs $360,000 US, payable at $30,000 month in advance, plus expenses. So the minimum cost of the “contacts” shown at the link below for June-August is $90,000.]
The Podesta Group filed its latest supplement to its Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosure of lobbying contacts for the Government of Kenya with the U.S. Justice Department last month, covering its work during the third quarter of 2015:
As you can see, the lobby group continued to work public relations efforts with media outlets such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Reuters and The Guardian, along with Congressional offices, the National Security Council, the State Department and other agencies, various think tanks, and financial officers of the States of Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
Living in a smaller, lesser-developed state in the U.S., I am thankful this year for National Public Radio which brings news and coverage of the world to areas such as ours ours on a non-commercial basis as a public service. I most frequently listen to the local NPR station during my “drive time” and also when I listen to satellite radio I often find the best, most worthwhile programming on NPR. The satellite radio has audio from CNN, Headlline News, Fox News, etc., most of which is not news, and simply has lower standards and loud, obnoxious and frequently disreputable commercials.
Yes, from a doctrinaire ideological viewpoint, it lacks conceptual purity to have the government provide a partial subsidy for broadcasting. Likewise, you can argue that having public libraries gets the government involved in the flow of ideas and information [full disclosure: I am on my local library board, and check out books for free]. On balance, I think this is a good practical thing that we can do for each other to help build an informed and aware citizenry that is qualified to govern itself and provide a postive example of self-government to others. No one has to listen and most people chose to be entertained instead of informed, but making this available matters, I think. From Mississippi, thanks to those of you in the rest of the country that help provide this service.
Here are some good stories from Africa this week on NPR: “River of Life–Congo Odyssey”; “Helping the World’s Poor Save, a Bit at a Time”; “Tell Me More” interview with a Kenyan village girl who is now a doctoral student at Pitt and wants to be an educator back in Kenya; “Will Kenya’s attempt to root out graft take hold?”