June 20, 2004—With Gov. Haley Barbour sitting right behind him, former Secretary of State and Neshoba County native Dick Molpus made a thundering speech in honor of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner Sunday in his hometown. The speech went far beyond his historic 1989 speech in which he became the only public official to have apologized for the murders. Sunday, Molpus not only called for fellow Neshobans to provide evidence they've kept to themselves for many years, but also called for Mississippians to get past harmful race rhetoric that has divided the state for so long and to continue the legacy of the three men by taking care of fellow Mississippians. Following is the full text of Molpus' call to action that was interrupted frequently by applause and drew him a lengthy standing ovation by the diverse audience ...
[VERBATIM] To the families and friends of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner we issue a heartfelt welcome. You and yours are forever linked with all of us. We are honored today by your presence.
Also, as I look across this audience I see people I know from across Mississippi and the United States. I am lifted up by your presence, as well.
This is an historic day for a number of reasons. First, we are seeing a remarkable display of unity and connection from the citizens of Philadelphia and Neshoba County. In the June 2nd edition of the Neshoba Democrat I saw a picture of Leroy Clemons, President of the NAACP, with Jim Prince, Editor of the Neshoba Democrat, saying clearly this community has come together and it was time for the "sun to shine through the clouds." There is no doubt that the work of the Philadelphia Coalition is nothing short of a miracle. I watched with pride as Mayor Rayburn Waddell of Philadelphia spoke for the Philadelphia City Council in passing an unequivocal resolution calling for justice and as the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors, led by James Young, issued their own clear call. The power of human understanding has been shown to us by the 30 individuals who have met every Monday night for two months to plan this event and authored their own eloquent and moving tribute to Messrs. Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. I am more proud of the leadership in my hometown than at any time in my life.
I believe, however, until justice is done, we are all at least somewhat complicit in those deaths. I recognize that only a handful of hate-filled men actually committed the murders, but we are all, to some degree, implicated. Some will say, "How can that be? Why can't we just move on?" Most weren't members of the Klan, those of you under 40 weren't even born and many of the baby-boomers, myself included, were teenagers. Many of our older citizens would never have ridden the dirt roads to terrorize and they don't condone murder. But all us who are Neshoba Countians or Mississippians have to acknowledge and face our corporate responsibility in this tragedy and I'm not talking about some fruitless and useless intellectual effort to assign guilt or blame. The debate about who could have or should have done what in 1964 could go on forever. It's a discussion that carries us no where – there is no resolution. But that does not mean we can move on by ignoring where we are in 2004.
One fact is absolutely clear – hear this – for 40 years our state judicial system has allowed murderers to roam our land. Night riders, church burners, beaters and killers deserve no protection from sure justice.
Our District Attorney, Mark Duncan, is elected by Neshoba citizens and four adjoining counties. Jim Hood, our Attorney General, is elected by all Mississippians. Our U.S. Attorney, Dunn Lampton, is appointed by the President of the United States, an election we all vote in. These are not weak, timid or cowardly men. They have all voiced their support for bringing charges with proven evidence that will lead to a conviction.
But our local responsibility for what happens in the future is also heavy. Clearly, we need to encourage and support those prosecutors. But those of us with local roots must do more.
By most accounts there were twenty men from Neshoba and Lauderdale Counties involved in the planning and actual executions. A number of them have taken to their grave their knowledge of this crime. They have already had their judgement day. Others, however, certainly told wives, children and buddies of their involvement. So there must be witnesses among us who can share information with prosecutors. Other murderers are aged and infirm and may want to be at peace with themselves and with God before their own death. They need to be encouraged to come forward. Now is the time to expose those dark secrets.
When we have heard murderers brag about their killings but pretend those words were never spoken, when we know about evidence to help bring justice, but refuse to step forward and tell authorities what they need to know…that's what makes us in 2004 guilty. Pretending this didn't happen makes us complicit. We must provide the help prosecutors need to bring closure to this case.
But justice by itself is not enough. These three young men died while urging people to vote and participate in our democracy. James Cheney, Mickey Schwerner and Andy Goodman were American patriots. Their murderers were domestic terrorists. The end of this saga, however, should not be about cowardly racists finally brought to justice. The final chapter should be about redemption and about moving on…moving on to a better life. The most lasting tribute we can make to these fallen heroes is to move on and to honor their cause.
This is 2004, not 1964. Many of the demons we face today are similar to the ones forty years ago. True, African-Americans have the right to vote, but too few of our citizens black, white, Indian, Asian or Hispanic use that right. Public schools were segregated in 1964. With the growth of segregation academies and white flight many remain that way now. Few politicians today use outright race baiting, but we see the symbols some use and the phrases they utter and everyone knows what the code is – what really is being said. In 1964 there was a dependence on low wage jobs in manufacturing plants. 40 years later most of the plants are gone, but too many still scrape by on dead end jobs to make ends meet. Black, white and Choctaw Indian communities here in Neshoba County and Mississippi struggle with the scourge of school dropouts, teen pregnancy and drug abuse that keep the cycle of poverty unbroken. To build a lasting monument to James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman we must face these issues with a clear, unblinking eye and say "no more."
And finally, we Mississippians must announce to the world what we've learned in 40 years. We know today that our enemies are not each other. Our real enemies are ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, racism, disease, unemployment, crime, the high dropout rate, teen pregnancy and lack of support for the public schools.
We can defeat all those enemies – not as divided people – black or white or Indian – but as a united force banded together by our common humanity – by our own desire to lift each other up.
40 years from now I want our children and grandchildren to look back on us and what we did and say that we had the courage, the wisdom and the strength to rise up, to take the responsibility to right historical wrongs…that we pledged to build a future together…we moved on…yes, we moved on as one people.
Molpus was wonderful. Thank you so much for providing the whole speech here, Donna - I was wondering how to convey the power of his speech. I missed the Governor's speech (what did you think of it? - a little bird told me it was quite good), but I doubt he could have gotten the reception that Dick Molpus speech did - the whole place was in an uproar of approval.
I wonder if Molpus would consider running for Governor next time (I can think of at least one person who would break old habit and actually work for a politician, if he did). I'd hate to give up my position as a sideline observer, but he might be the one who would convince me.
Oh my gosh, Mr. Molpus' first name was censored out. I must have not capitalized it (I should have edited before sending).