Sankar Chatterjee

Posted on July 9, 2018

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Racism Flows Through It

In the year 1964, Mr. Edgar Ray Killen, a young sawmill owner as well as a part-time preacher in small Baptist Churches in rural Mississippi, also clandestinely belonged to the local section of violent KKK-gang of white supremacists. That summer, Mr. Killen would learn about three youths, two white and one African-American organizing voter-registration drive among poor African-American farmers in the area.  He brought it to the attention of Mr. Cecil Price, the local sheriff and a fellow closeted KKK-member.  One evening in mid-June, Mr. Price called Mr. Killen to inform that he had detained the youths that afternoon for allegedly violating traffic rules and was about to release them from the police station.  Mr. Killen passed the information to three fellow KKK-members, while supposedly heading towards a funeral home to attend a wake, more likely to create an alibi.

Six weeks later, after an intense search by the federal authority, the bullet-ridden bodies of the youths buried under an earthen dam would be located.  The case galvanized the country.  At the trial, one confessed avoiding jail-term, seven were convicted (but none served than more than six years) and eight would be acquitted, Mr. Killen being one of them.  One lone dissenter from an all-white jury had famously proclaimed that she did not believe that a “Man of God” could participate in such a crime!  The case lingered on country’s conscience for more than forty years, when it was reopened based on new evidence and re-analysis of old testimony.  In summer of 2005, the presiding judge finding Mr. Killen guilty imposed a sentence of a total of sixty years, twenty years for each victim, while opining that each life has value.  To the judge, it did not matter that by now Mr. Killen had become an old fragile gentleman.

Recently, the country has been reeling from fresh waves of racism and bigotry from higher levels of leadership.  Ironically, in the midst comes an annual remembrance day in the memory of the slain civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also assassinated by another white supremacist Mr. James Earl Ray. While silence and inaction engulf the society, Rev. King reminds us: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

On January 11, 2018, Mr. Edgar Ray Killen drew his last breath in a prison cell in Parchman, Mississippi.  He was 92 years old.

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Sankar Chatterjee possesses the passion for traveling worldwide to immerse himself in new cultures and customs to discover the forgotten history of the societies while attempting to find the common thread that connects the humanity as a whole for its continuity. His recent selected essays appeared in The Write Launch, The Vignette Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Missing Slate, Subtle Fiction, Funny in Five Hundred, Friday Flash Fiction, DEFY! Anthology (Robocup Press), and Foliate Oak (in press).

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