A spectacularly sunny, hot day here in Rancho Mirage. Just beautiful. As usual, I swam in the morning, but even as I stroked the backstroke in my pool, I felt dizzy. I am still reeling from an experience I had last night. It started actually a couple of weeks ago when I was talking to a woman who has known me all of my life. We were discussing the election in a guarded way. She said, after I told her I planned to vote for Trump, “So I guess you really hate black people.”
I was floored. This woman, although she had known me a long time, obviously did not know me well. She did not know that in college, I had driven from Columbia in New York to Cambridge, Maryland (my native state) to march for equal rights for blacks, nor that I had briefly been jailed for it. (Very briefly.)
It’s sickening that the struggle of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner was for an integrated America, and now many blacks (not all) want a segregated America, blacks separate from whites.
She did not know that I had, at Yale Law School, helped to fund the Free Breakfast Program of the Black Panther Party on “the Hill” in New Haven. She did not know that I, along with the dozen or so other members of the Yale Law School Film Society, had given up most of our wages and profits to the Free Breakfast Program of the Black Panther Party. (I am sorry to say that in 1969–70 we had little idea of just how violent the Black Panthers were and how the Free Breakfast Program was just a diversion from their real, far less idealistic enterprises.)
And she did not know something that I had myself forgotten. To remember it, we have to cast our memories back to 1964. That was right in the middle of the most intense Civil Rights struggles of the century. There had been many rural black church burnings, some murders, chronic illegal blocking of blacks from theaters, restaurants, neighborhoods, and mostly from the ballot box.
In rural Mississippi, black people were kept in miserable shackles of poverty and powerlessness. A welter of college students from the Northeast, especially New York, had organized groups, especially the Congress of Federated Organizations (COFO), to send white students from the north to Mississippi for what were called “Freedom Schools,” where illiterate blacks would be taught to read and write so they could pass literacy tests (then widespread in the South) and get to vote.
One such student was Mickey Schwerner, a Jewish man from New York, who came down to Meridian, Mississippi, with his wife, Rita, to start a Freedom School. All of this was part of “Freedom Summer” whose goal was to get as many blacks as possible registered to vote that summer.
Mr. Schwerner was not greeted warmly by some of the local blacks, many of whom considered him condescending. He was met with extreme hatred by many of the local whites, especially youths, who considered him an “interloper Jew boy” and pointed out to him that New York City had plenty of problems and no one saw Mississippians driving up to there to stir things up. (A point I had frankly not considered at the time.)
Rita Schwerner was threatened with sexual violence and promptly left Meridian.
At a training session for “Freedom Summer,” Schwerner met another New York college student, also a Jew, who wanted to join in the “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi. Schwerner sought to persuade him that it was far too dangerous for him to go, but Andrew Goodman insisted on going and indeed went.
Three intrepid souls, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and a local young black man from Meridian, James Chaney, who had been working with COFO in Meridian for months, set out from Oxford, Ohio, to Meridian to do good works.
They did not get far. They were warned over and over that their work was extremely dangerous and that the local segregationists would stop at nothing to balk them. They went anyway. In particular, very soon after arriving in Meridian, they went to the burned-out hulk of the black Mount Zion Church. It had been burned by the Klan 1) to express the Klan’s anger at its use as a “Freedom School” and 2) to lure Andrew Goodman back to Meridian to hurt him. They hated him especially because he was Jewish, had a beard, and had stirred up the local, previously mostly quiescent blacks.
Their scheme worked evilly well. Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner drove to the Mount Zion Church hulk and reassured the black minister that they would set up a new “Freedom School” there. On their way back to Meridian, they were pulled over by the Neshoba County sheriff, Mr. Rainey. They were jailed and released late at night. Then they were headed off by a posse of Klansmen and yanked out of their car and murdered.
They were buried in an earthen dam and their bodies not found for well over six weeks. The case was only “busted” by the FBI with the help of an informant for a nearby Ku Klux Klan. Not surprisingly, none of the killers was ever found guilty of homicide by local Neshoba County jurors or of any crime at all. (This was, in a horrible way, similar to the “jury nullification” by an all-black jury of the charges against O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman despite the incredible fact that a drop of Nicole’s blood was found in O.J.’s bedroom right after the murders by knife.)
Some of the killers were subsequently found guilty of civil rights violations under federal law and served light sentences.
However, the murders greatly aroused the conscience of the nation. The president, LBJ, proposed and shepherded to passage powerful civil rights laws that enfranchised blacks and other minorities and radically lessened racial discrimination in many ways.
Almost every Republican in Congress voted for those laws. Almost every Democrat voted against them.
Anyway, guess who wrote the outline for the movie, Murder in Mississippi, brought it to Warner Brothers, got it moving, and then was cheated out of full credit for my efforts? You guessed it. Ben Stein.
Now, when I watch it, I feel sick. First of all, I did not, repeat not, write the script, which is in some ways a viciously un-factual anti-Christian diatribe. Second, it was heartbreaking that blacks had been murdered and tortured in the Deep South forever and nothing much was done about it. But when two white college boys were murdered, the country turned inside out. Third, it’s sickening that the struggle of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner was for an integrated America, and now many blacks (not all) want a segregated America, blacks separate from whites. The leading and most nauseating example is the Congressional Black Caucus, which will not allow white congressmen to join and which has had a court rule its way. (How can that be?)
Finally, how can it be that after such incredible sacrifice by blacks and whites, madmen and madwomen say America is a “systemically racist” society? How can it be that when almost all violent deaths of blacks are caused by other blacks, that white and black police are accused of race murder?
And, wait a minute, this should be final: How can it be that when Jews led the struggle for equal rights for blacks in this glorious America, that the leading Jew-haters in the USA are black?
It all just breaks my heart. God bless this great America and keep it great.
P.S. I your humble servant, Ben Stein, have decided to dip my toes into the social media “thing” the kids seem so fond of these days. You can find me now on the Parler app @benstein. I will soon be sharing a new project I am working on called “The World According to Ben Stein.” Stay tuned or follow, please.
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Author: Ben Stein