Mississippi Burning

The most publicized murders from Freedom Summer were those of three young civil rights workers-a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The trio set out to investigate a church bombing but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive. Six weeks later their bodies were discovered under a nearby dam; Goodman and Schwerner had died from a single gunshot wounds to their chest, Chaney from a savage beating.

Mississippi Burning was a 1988 film produced in reference to this tragic event. The film won an Academy Award and several nominations….along with many criticisms.

The opening scenes are some of the most harrowing scenes of 1980’s film starting with a burning church seen with the KKK’s calling card of a burning wooden cross. However, does the film actually show the truth behind the Freedom Summer or ’64? Where is the strong African American protagonist? Instead we have two white FBI agents who grossly misinterpret the role of the FBI agents during the civil rights movement, which American historian Howard Zinn has a lot to say about. The critics even note that the African Americans in the film are portrayed as victims that rely on the white FBI agents security.

Though we may have made huge strides since the 1980’s this is still a prolific example of what Rosa brings up with May in Bourbon at the Border:

“I was watching this Woody Allen movie one time. It was pretty good, too. All about a bunch of sisters….right in the middle, when I had already picked one I sort of identified with, here comes the black maid at the party. Sister was dressed in that Hollywood maid outfit-little apron, white orthopedic shoes like a damn nurse in case somebody fell out or something. But it made me mad. She didn’t have one line and nobody even said anything directly to her…”


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