The Truth Can Hurt | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Truth Can Hurt

A reckoning happened last week in the James O. Eastland Federal Courthouse in Jackson. A lot of truth came out before anyone ever took the stand to testify in the James Ford Seale trial for the kidnapping of Charles Moore and Henry Dee.

With Judge Henry Wingate, an African American with a soothing demeanor, asking them questions, potential jurors from across the southern half of Mississippi answered questions about their own race past.

In so doing, these jurors arguably constituted the closest Mississippi may ever come to a truth commission, such as happened in South Africa after apartheid, in which participants in racist incidents came forward to talk about them without fear of prosecution. The results of the voir dire—the fancy name for jury selection—were surprising even to the most hardened court watchers looking on.

In many ways, it was excruciating to watch, as captured in Matt Saldaña's daily posts on the JFP's Road to Meadville blog. Both blacks and whites talked about incidents that, clearly, they had never discussed in public before, perhaps not in private, and certainly not in "mixed" company. Many broke down in body sobs. At one point, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton hid the Kleenex box so as to not "encourage them," he quipped. Didn't work.

Juror No. 6 was a black male who became visibly upset, saying that the case was making him think of "things I didn't want to think about" from the past. "In McComb, I was running for my life—churches were being bombed," he said. "The preacher said, 'Run, run!' We had to run," he said.

"(The Ku Klux Klan) rode through—shot up houses. You had to cut your lights out," he added. "I really don't want to be on (the trial) because I couldn't be impartial or anything like that."

Juror No. 69, a white woman in her 60s from George County, said her father had been a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—the Seales' bunch—and had sexually abused her until she was 18 years old. She said that she found out about the Klan when her father took her into the woods to show her his cache of guns. Once, she told the court, she saw her father strike a black police officer in Vicksburg. "It wasn't right for him to hit someone because he was black," she said.

Most striking to me has been some of the jurors' extreme stress—over simply being asked to talk about the state's race history. Striking, but not surprising. We live in a state where the past has been placed in a box that we might open every now and then, ever so gingerly and briefly, then slam closed before people start whining too much about being asked to "apologize for the past."

Voir dire closely resembled painful, messy, excruciating group therapy. And the trial promises more of the same, as former Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards tells his story of helping capture and torture Moore and Dee to the jury and to the public.

"[W]e'd do most anything we thought had to be done to stop integration and keep separation of the races," Edwards testified. Or as the Klan oath put it, Klansmen like Edwards and Seale were pledging to follow "the spirit of Christian militancy" to "combat Satan" and "preserve Christian civilization."

Except that they weren't—which even Edwards seems to know, now. Outside the presence of the jury, Edwards apologized to Dee and Moore for the murders.

One of the compelling details about a case filled with them—Klansman v. Klansman; a black judge; two blonde female lawyers; and group therapy as voir dire—is that defending Seale compels the defense attorneys to try to bury even more Klan history along the way. Maybe it's good lawyering, but it just follows this state's pattern of burying the past. Fortunately, the judge isn't going for it.

As a result, the Klan dirtiness is being aired out for all to see—and from an active insider, not a paid informant, this time. This is good, if painful. We need to know in order to understand the deep pain between the races in our state and then, God willing, cure it.

But the risk is still very great that this, too, shall pass—and many people won't be much wiser for it. Too many folks seem to think that we can only handle bits and pieces of the truth, and must be spoonfed whitewashed versions that have become acceptable.

For instance, media reports said for years that Dee and Moore were random victims of Klan violence. Actually, as the JFP learned two years ago, the Klan was after Dee specifically because they suspected him (rightly) of civil rights activity. That fact has helped the feds have jurisdiction in the case.

We have also reported that the Klan feared that blacks were arming themselves, and were beating Dee and Moore to get information—a radically different, yet more accurate report than the media gave over the years—and one that came out in court Tuesday. As late as last week, The Clarion-Ledger downplayed the idea that blacks were stockpiling guns for self-defense in Franklin County. But they were, as were many blacks in South Mississippi. Blacks taking up arms finally broke Jim Crow in our state, as nonviolence was not working in the country's most entrenched region.

But the whitewashed story we're told is a simple one of black victimhood.

If The Clarion-Ledger has its way, this will be the last case, really it will. It seems they're tired, so it's time to stop telling stories of past civil-rights atrocities. Just last Sunday, the Ledger wrote a kind-but-puffy piece about the families of murder victims like Wharlest Jackson and Ben Brown. The paper declared that the cases would never be prosecuted (much as it had done about the Dee-Moore case).

How can they know that? We don't have many facts because the history as it has been presented to Mississippi by fellow citizens, powers-that-be, our schools and our media is shaped before it gets to us. There are people deciding that we can now handle hearing some stories about a few Kluckers-in-the-Korner—stories that by default exonerate the rest of white society—but true narratives about black men arming themselves to defend their families might not go over so well.

But truth is what Mississippians need. We might cry, or feel uncomfortable, but we can handle it. The only question is whether those who know it can handle giving it to us.

Previous Comments

ID
74965
Comment

Actually, as the JFP learned two years ago, the Klan was after Dee specifically because they suspected him (rightly) of civil rights activity. That fact has helped the feds have jurisdiction in the case. What civil rights activity was Dee known to have been involved in? He was targeted, supposedly, for wearing a black bandanna on his head and having spent time in Chicago, a home base for so-called "Black Muslims" b/c of the NOI. I don't recall seeing stuff about actual civil rights involvements of Dee. Am I forgetting or missing something? Or did this come out in the trial?

Author
Ben G.
Date
2007-06-07T09:36:09-06:00
ID
74966
Comment

Once again, thanks, Donna. Maybe I should just tattoo "Thanks" to my forehead so I don't have to say it so much. :-P But truth is what Mississippians need. We might cry, or feel uncomfortable, but we can handle it. The only question is whether those who know it can handle giving it to us. QUOTE O' THE WEEK!

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-06-07T10:17:59-06:00
ID
74967
Comment

People in Franklin County have said that Dee was in the early stages of being involved in activism. And he was close to people working for change in the area. I don't use "activity" to mean that he was aligned with a specific organization. And it sure doesn't mean that he was a "Black Panther" as Edwards thought he was then. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-06-07T10:19:37-06:00
ID
74968
Comment

Thank you, L.W. I really, truly am sick of the whitewashed verison of history we're given. It doesn't help us.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-06-07T10:21:20-06:00
ID
74969
Comment

Dee was in the early stages of being involved in activism. And he was close to people working for change in the area. Interesting, I wonder what concretely that means. I am pretty certain there was no involvement with the COFO folks in Amite, Pike and Walthal counties. There was the local activities of Briggs and others, but I of course am curious what exactly... And it sure doesn't mean that he was a "Black Panther" as Edwards thought he was then. You mean as Edwards thinks he thought he was then. Wasn't any such thing as Black Panther in 64. The fear was of so called "Black Muslims." But if Edwards wasn't informed about them then--he could easily have blended his different caricatures of Black militancy together.

Author
Ben G.
Date
2007-06-07T11:23:34-06:00
ID
74970
Comment

That's why "Black Panthers" is in quotes, Ben. I knew you'd understand the point. ;-) Clearly, the Klan then thought that any effort for a black man to defend himself was "black militancy," or some such. I didn't say he was involved with COFO or any of the other organizations. I have been told that he was close to local people involved in helping black people on the ground in Franklin County. This is "civil rights activity," even if not the nationally sanctioned type. Oh, and some of people Dee spent time with were certainly were part of larger organizations.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-06-07T12:48:31-06:00
ID
74971
Comment

It is sad that, even today, people do not know the difference between, say, the Black Panthers (or, earlier, the Nation of Islam) and the Deacons for Defense, a grass-roots self-defense organization that grew up in Mississippi and Louisiana starting in 1964 in response to Klan violence (being that nonviolence was not working in "Klan Nation"). We've heard so little about the Deacons that it would be easy to paint them with the same brush or to try to act like they were about violent "uprisings."

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-06-07T12:56:35-06:00
ID
74972
Comment

Unfortunately, I've met many whites who once comfortable with me said to me that black churches weren't teaching the parishers or members about religion or Jesus but instead were teaching about fighting back against the Klan and other racists. Very little and certainly too little teachings of this nature (protecting and arming yourself) were being taught by blacks to blacks any where including the church, often the only place most blacks could meet in large numbers without the usual violent infiltration or confrontation by the polices and other violent racists. Yet I haven't had a single one of the same or likeminded people to question how rape, incest and murder could possiblly jell with Christianity. These comments instantly taught me what was being taught in the other neighborhoods and why things were so slow to change. This hiding from the truth of the ugly past runs deeply in the hearts, minds and souls of white Mississippians whom I doubt will ever be free because of it. It seems the burden or manumit to free white Mississippians has long been placed on us black folks by the call or mantra of "just let it all die." Lord knows we black folks have tried valiantly to let it all just die, and we may have succeeded except for the unmistaken and clear efforts on the part of many powerful and not so powerful whites committed to keep the old, dirty and racist Mississippi past alive. Sadly these proponents of keeping the old ways alive include judges, teachers, administrators, legislators, mayors, governors, councilmen, aldermen, newspapers editors and employeees, television owners and employees, office holders of every type and kind, employers and bosses of every type and kind, and too many so called regular people. And the list never seems to end. Once again, getting rid of the rebel flag as the state flag will be some evidence or indication of moving beyond Mississippi's old past. Most white Mississippians aren't ready for this and I know exactly why this is the case no matter the nuances and claims to deflect the truth.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-07T14:25:19-06:00
ID
74973
Comment

I forgot to say excellent column. The voir dire was quite touching and revealing.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-07T14:45:45-06:00
ID
74974
Comment

Freeing oneself from Mississippi's racist past is as easy as telling the truth about it, and not deciding not to participate in the old or new racist ways. Hundreds and thousands of people have succeeded at freeing themselves by this mere formula. And they feel really, really good about it.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-07T15:00:26-06:00
ID
74975
Comment

I meant deciding not to participate in the old or new forms of racism.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-07T15:01:36-06:00
ID
74976
Comment

Oh, Ray, everyone who hasn't worked themselves into a totally blinded state of denial knows why white Mississippians are not ready to let go of the symbol in the corner of the state flag; no point in trying to get them to admit it, though, because it just isn't happening; their defensiveness is too strong. Not as long as some people live, anyway, but maybe after the generation before me and my generation have died off. I've about decided that I'm not likely to live to see it, but I hope you will.

Author
C.W.
Date
2007-06-07T15:20:12-06:00
ID
74977
Comment

It seems the burden or manumit to free white Mississippians has long been placed on us black folks by the call or mantra of "just let it all die." You're right. And it has to end. It's not black people's burden to forgive before white people have asked for forgiveness. Of course many have. Remarkably.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-06-07T15:50:13-06:00
ID
74978
Comment

As I think about the comment "The Truth can Hurt" I'm tempted to ask why it hurts so much. I understand the fear of prosecution claim although I don't condone it, but I'm not sure that I understand many or any of the other reasons for running or hiding from the truth. Is it because of remorse or contrition has arrived? Won't real and genuine remorse or contrition make you deal with a matter outwardly? Or is the reason for hiding or running is the need to appear as somebody you aren't? To live a lie so to speak. Or is the hiding and running all about trying to protect some very sick and disturbed close relatives. If either of the later two is the case then how do either help the carrier. Does self-deceit really soothe your heart, mind and soul? Is participating in hiding old horrible and racist acts really helping your relatives. Are people truly being freed by these act of complicity or deceit? Is it even possibly to deceitfully free yourself? I don't really know the answers to there questions, and I'm certainly not trying to create or increase stress and hurt of any innocent or guilty persons dealing with such onerous problems. I merely hope some real and workable efforts are being made by those who want to be free. That ex-klansman, if acting genuinely, could have been trying to free himself by asking the families for forgiveness. He might have even loosen or lessen the hate and hurt he had caused by such mere act of only a few seconds.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-07T16:06:10-06:00
ID
74979
Comment

The state flag issue is interesting, I think it will be changed in my lifetime, because at some point in time the number of citizens who are "post integration" will outnumber those of the "pre" generation. Since the elderly vote more and are more active politically, it will take time, but those of us who've grown up together and know better will take the lead eventually.

Author
GLewis
Date
2007-06-07T19:24:40-06:00
ID
74980
Comment

I think so, too GLewis, assuming you are younger than me (I'm 60). :-)

Author
C.W.
Date
2007-06-07T20:03:28-06:00
ID
74981
Comment

I forgot to comment on the extent judge Wingate apparently allowed the lawyers to go concerning their voir dire on race. The case being obviously about race hatred contributed greatly to this leeway being given, but I bet judge Wingate being a black man also kept him from being afraid to deal boldly with the issue. In my numerous representations of black males accused of killing whites, many white judges have told me right before the start of the trial that "race has nothing to do with this case". We death penalty lawyer know this is usually a total lie. Several judges have told me this although I hadn't practiced in their courts before and I gave no indication that I would mention race. Although race seems to be a large looming sub-issue in many of these cases based on the jurisdiction, venue and history that I'm not dumb enough to ignore, the judges try to force me and others to not speak to it. I address it anyway although cautiously, subtlely and kindly when race start to appear as not a big issue. In other cases where I can see plainly that race is a troublesome and big issue that must be overcomed I speak to it boldly even if it offends the judge and many others. Some judge are too stupid to read their own nonverbal messages. Often they won't allow a discussion of race because they're themselves are one of the biggest racist in the courtroom or they haven't resolved or reconciled their own issues of race and believe they have some duty to protect people just like them. Much of the problem regarding race and black lawyers, although rarely said, is attributed to our beautiful late prince and great lawyer, Johnnie Cochran. Lots of people are still mad about how he wondrously connected race to the gross incompetence of the crime scene experts in a famous case and likely got a quilty man off Scott free. Rarely are OJ's white lawyers vilified and castigated in the manner Johnnie was and is for his great performance in that case. Many of the ideas, theories and themes he used were provided by equally smart and talented white lawyers. Johnnie merely drove the car through the burning fire. And what a driver he was - unmistakenly one of the greatest lawyer the world has ever seen.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-08T08:13:31-06:00
ID
74982
Comment

Speaking of another trial and the truth, Congressman William "Dollar Bills" Jefferson has been indicted. I guess it's true that in Louisiana politicians serve two terms - one in the free world and one in the confined. He needs to step down now and plead quilty thereby sparing us the incredible details of why a congressman keeps his money in the deepfreezer.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-08T09:40:29-06:00
ID
74983
Comment

...and Ray Carter, don't you won't to just kick Jefferson's butt? HE HAD ABSOLUTELY no protection in trying to run a scam like that. His crap started stinking the minute they opened the refrigerator. Back to the flag issue, there were a lot of white who worked with us in trying to retire the confederate flag and especially since it had not been ratified. William Winter and Harvey Johnson were two of Jackson's leaders in that movement. To the blogger who thinks that we will all be dead when the confederate flag is retired to its place in a MS museum, I totally disagree. I think that the end is sooner than later. I have to keep my kleenex box near when I talk about the seals case and other issues dealing with racism. So many things have not changed.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-06-08T11:42:47-06:00
ID
74984
Comment

Justjess, you're probably talking about me, but I didn't say we'd all probably be dead, I said that I probably will be, along with my generation and the ones before mine. That's because I'm likely older than you; but I'm happy to hope along with you, and if another chance to work on retiring the cbf symbol should come by, I'll work for it again. That's a promise.

Author
C.W.
Date
2007-06-08T12:45:18-06:00
ID
74985
Comment

Yes, Justjess, what a way to waste a Harvard Law Degree that is so expensive and offers the holder so many advantages. I think Carol Mosley Braum got caught up into something similar before Jefferson. I guess some Congressmen, like youthful criminals, don't think the lives and stories of others are helpful to steering oneself clear of trouble. Lots of people can't talk about the past, including lots of black folks who suffered amazing and irreparable hurt and harm. I can talk about it easily due, I think, to not suffering any personal brutality and being far, far removed from it all on a personal level. But as anyone can tell I have read extensively about it and can feel much of the pain that was endured. I hope my studying and talking about it has and is helping someone.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-08T13:21:40-06:00
ID
74986
Comment

HAAVING LIVED THROUGH THOSE HELLESH TIMES IT IS SOMETHING YOU CAN'T FORGEt. You push it to the back of your mind to keep from hating all the time then something happens or you see something on tv that brings it right back to the forefront. I don't think any black who lived in the south during the civil rights era will ever forget the raw hatred that was seen and heard 24/7. I have talked to a lot of whites who experienced the same hatred because they didn't go along with the majority, they too don't like to talk about it because it is just to painful to recall mans inhumanity to man. I personally want the younger people told all the stories but I guess it will have to come from people like Ladd and her staff. remembering it just too painful. Ray keep reading and writing about what you read it might help some to understand why it is so hard to turn the other cheek when it comes to racism.

Author
jada
Date
2007-06-08T19:48:10-06:00
ID
74987
Comment

HAVING LIVED THROUGH THOSE HELLESH TIMES IT IS SOMETHING YOU CAN'T FORGEt. You push it to the back of your mind to keep from hating all the time then something happens or you see something on tv that brings it right back to the forefront. I don't think any black who lived in the south during the civil rights era will ever forget the raw hatred that was seen and heard 24/7. I have talked to a lot of whites who experienced the same hatred because they didn't go along with the majority, they too don't like to talk about it because it is just to painful to recall mans inhumanity to man. I personally want the younger people told all the stories but I guess it will have to come from people like Ladd and her staff. remembering it just too painful. Ray keep reading and writing about what you read it might help some to understand why it is so hard to turn the other cheek when it comes to racism.

Author
jada
Date
2007-06-08T19:48:47-06:00
ID
74988
Comment

Certainly Jada I will keep reading and writing about what Dubois called the problem of the 20th or 21st Century. If he were still here he would be shocked and now calling the same the problem of the 22nd and beyond century. I bet he didn't anticipate the concerted and dedicated efforts to keep the past from dying for so long. I'm also hopeful I will get a few people to free themselves. I've gotten many emails from people letting me know something I wrote resonated with them. I know I have some haters, too. I don't even need to say again where they can go. I often wonder why I keep putting forth the effort. A friend suggested I not give up. Over the weekend I read some of Charles Ogletree' account of growing up in Merced, California, before Stanford and Harvard Law School. His background is oh so familiar. Race and racism weren't talked about in his formative school years either. Just practiced. Of course, we know the North was largely in denial, too. Indeed, I have some understanding of why whites couln't discuss it openly back then. I can't claim to understand why not now. I hope we can all overcome, especially us - the intended victims. I'm open to the accidental victims too.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-06-11T12:40:38-06:00
ID
74989
Comment

overcome yes. We can't give anyone that much power over us, but forget no. I have forgiven but I can't forget as long as the haters continue to practice their hatred on not just blacks now but other minorities. I guess I am feeling sorry for the Hispanics today because some of the hatred talk and actions are now being targeted towards them. I understand the illegal aliens not being wanted but now the haters are targeting all hispanics. Have we not learned anything. 9-11 supposedly brought us together well that didn't last. Now the country is targeting "all non american borns . What or who is next??

Author
jada
Date
2007-06-11T13:24:57-06:00
ID
74990
Comment

Please don't stop, Ray. There are a lot of us who look for your comments in here. You either, Jada (I'm just not as familiar with your posts as Ray's). DuBois would certainly be surprised, as are many of my generation. Somehow, forty years ago, it never occurred to us that this many things would remain unchanged or so little changed. The voir dire was another revelation to me. Judging from what the prospective jurors said in there, things are bogged in the past even worse than I realized. I was reading Matt's article about it, and just kept muttering, "oh, man" all the way thru.

Author
C.W.
Date
2007-06-11T13:39:40-06:00
ID
74991
Comment

I'm with C.W. Ray, jada and pikersam give a perspective that is hard to match, and I'm thankful for their points of view being expressed here.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-06-11T13:44:33-06:00

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