We just left our meeting at The Clarion-Ledger with Jerry Mitchell. For those who do not know, Mitchell is an investigative reporter for the paper, and has aided in the conviction of those involved in many KKK organized murders, including the assassination of Medgar Evers. I was very impressed by him. He came to greet us after we had all gathered in the lobby of the Ledger and just by the way he walked down the stairs, I immediately knew that this was going to be an interesting meeting. Mitchell is not a big man; He’s about my height (I’m 5’9″), and fairly thin. He walked to us with such a relaxed, but confident demeanor. Once we all sat down, the information just began to pour out of him. He shared many stories of different trials, and the great lengths he went through in order to get the information, even going to dinner at a barbeque restaurant with a Klansman because he “guessed that’s what Klansmen eat.”
I went going to meet Mitchell, praying that he would touch on Byron De La Beckwith, the man that murdered Medgar Evers. I remember going to the movie theater to see Ghosts of Mississippi at nine years old and how upset I was afterward. I was glad that Mitchell cleaned up and elaborated on some details that were depicted in the movie. Mitchell shared that in October 1989 he ran a story exploiting the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission (headed by the state’s governor), and the fact that they had assisted the defense for an aquittal of Beckwith. Mitchell said that Beckwith was more racist than what the movie showed! I cannot even imagine.
In the movie, Beckwith (played by James Woods) said to DeLaughter in the bathroom that he would never shoot a deer, because it was a beautiful creature, but that “a nigger, well, that’s another story entirely,” or something to that effect and I didn’t think it could get much worse than that. It hurt me very much. Mitchell also said that Myrlie Evers-Williams (Medgar’s wife) gave him the trial transcript, not Bobby DeLaughter like shown in the movie. But, he did say that DeLaughter did indeed find the murder weapon at his father-in-law’s home.
“I just catch ’em, I don’t fry ’em!” That is a quote stolen from a colleague that Mitchell says describes his role in the cases.
Mitchell is a very brave soul. I don’t know if I could do such investigative reporting. Ha! I know I couldn’t. I am a black woman and those Klansman would terrorize the hell out of me. But it is very admirable to see someone who “missed the Civil Rights Movement,” become so immersed in finding information to get justice for those who lost their lives, and for the families who have had to deal with the aftermath for years. Although I hate to admit it, maybe I was so impressed because he is white. My California and my black woman mentality has made me think that the majority of white Southerners are racist. But, that’s just what i’ve seen on television. He does not consider himself the hero, but the deceased and their families. Mitchell said, “If someone killed my Daddy, I’d be bitter…and they’re not.” I lost my mother due to leukemia, and I was bitter for years. I wish that I would have had even half the strength that they had. I would love to meet the family of Evers one day, and of others that lives were lost. I would just hug them. I would hold them close.
We are headed to Philadelphia, MS in about an hour. This is the town that James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner were killed in during Freedom Summer in 1964. Mitchell was gracious enough to give a couple of his contacts in the town. I am so disappointed that we will not be able to visit the home of Evers. I feel he was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement and that we should pay him homage. But, we are on a tight schedule in a tight and cramped van! I will have to take it upon myself to come back down to Jackson, if it’s only to go visit that one spot.