After leaving Mt. Zion, I took the women reporters to Road 515, also known as Rock Cut Road, to show them where the three men were taken and killed.
First, we followed the same route they had left from Mount Zion, after they had gone there to examine the remains of the burned-down church on Father's Day 1964. They drove back toward Philadelphia on Hwy. 16 in the Ford Fairlane station wagon and Deputy Cecil Price pulled them over, ostensibly for speeding. He then took them to the county jail, but did not give them a phone call. They were kept in the county jail for hours, and ate their last meal, while the Klan mob from Meridian and Philadelphia to set a plan into action. While they were there, the COFO volunteers in Meridian, worried because they hadn't heard from the men, tried to call the jail, but were told the men weren't there.
After Price charged Chaney a fine and let them go, a lynch mob waited in the Neshoba County hospital parking lot on Highway 19, then at the top of the hill right outside town in front of what used to be Pilgrim's store. They started chasing the three men, with police lights flashing, all the way to House community where they turned right, but then pulled over. The mob then drove the men back a little ways toward town to Road 515 where they executed them, one at a time, Chaney last. They then stuffed their bodies into the back of the station wagon, and then drove them to the burial site near the Neshoba County fairground.
Today, the site was earily quiet. There was one woman reporter there when we arrived, but she left before we got out of our cars. The site always surprises visitors because it is just off Highway 19 at a small crossroads. The confidence of the men is quite obvious when you realize that they executed the men so close to a major highway on a Sunday night.
There has never been a memorial at the site, although the Legislature voted recently the name that strip of Highway 19 as Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Highway. I have been there many times, but today the spot shocked me. Now, there is a BellSouth box transformer of some sort on the embankment against which they were killed. Seeing the box of metal there is shocking somehow, and struck us all as odd and kind of eery, and not at all respectful. We all started looking over it, reading the small print as if that was going to explain why somebody thought it was a good idea to put something so cold and impersonal and hulking in such a historic site.
As we stood there, cars kept passing us. We all knew that Edgar Ray Killen lives only a short piece down that road, so you couldn't help but wonder who the people were in the cars. Some of them waved; some didn't.
The last time I had been in the spot was with Angela Lewis for the Glamour magazine story over a year ago. I had been there many, many times over the years and taken many folks there for their first visit, and had always found it depressing that there wasn't a real memorial there. But today I found myself wishing we could just return to a time when oak and pine trees and black-eye susans dotted the spot.
We then said goodbye to the two reporters and they headed down Rock Cut Road to see Killen's house. I took Kate back to her car and headed west toward Jackson.
After stopping to get some food, a car passed me and then flagged me down. Turns out it was Jenny (L.A. Times), and we pulled into the Golden Moon parking lot. She told me that they had pulled up to Killen's house and saw him and a lot of men sitting outside as if they were having a party. They parked and started to walk up to talk to them. One man, wearing a KKK cap, walked up to them and told them to leave. He gave Minna his card; his name was J.J. Harper of Cordele, Ga., and his title was listed as the imperial wizard of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The reporters then left. The black business card has a symbol of a lynching in the corner.
This is an interesting development as Killen has claimed that he has never been connected to the Klan in any way.