Forty-one years ago today, three young men were killed as they sought to help others exercise their rights as Americans to vote and as humans to live free of fear. They came to Mississippi as part of a massive influx of people to register voters in a state known as a “closed society” that ensured that only a few kept their power. They came to Mississippi as young men but never left alive.
Today, one man was convicted of helping to orchestrate the murder of these three young men. He lived a life in Mississippi that sought to limit the rights of others to be human and American. In a previous trial, one juror kept the others from conviction because she could not believe that a preacher could do such a thing. Now feeble and infirm, continuing to deny any connection to the crime or to the organized hate that facilitated it, he faces up to sixty years in prison, never to walk free in Mississippi again.
Summer began today, and I think Mississippi can call it another Freedom Summer. People from around the world have come to Mississippi to cover the trial, and we have seen glimpses of a new Mississippi. This new Mississippi is like the new creation that Paul talks about in his epistles: it hasn’t come yet, and we don’t know what it will look like. We may even miss it when it comes our way, and it probably won’t be finished in time for us to see what it looks like. Nonetheless, it is coming.
Today was one glimpse of that new creation, a new world where justice and peace reign, where those who wrong others are forced to face their sin and begin the process of repentance.
Tomorrow, another glimpse of that new creation is set to begin just around the corner from the courthouse where justice was finally served today. At the Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner Living Memorial Civil Rights Education Summit and UNESCO’s Breaking the Silence Project, teachers and others will gather to talk about how to teach about these events in schools. When I was growing up, the most I ever learned about the Civil Rights Movement came from news coverage of the release of Mississippi Burning. It is certainly a sign of the new creation that people are trying to teach these things to the children of this place that remains so torn by the violence that has marked its history for so many centuries.
Pray that the new creation may come quickly into our midst in Mississippi.