Controversy: “A dishonest distortion of the historical record.” True? Does It Matter?
the facts: Michael(“Mickey”) and Rita Scherner, CORE, open community center in Meridian Miss. 1964. Death threats from Ku Klux Klan. Joined by James Chaney, 21, African American. June 1964—“Freedom Summer,” 1,000 volunteers, ¾ white, voter registration drive, training center, Oxford, Ohio. Meet Andrew Goodman, 20, Queens College. June 21: S,C, return to Miss., G goes along; inspect black church burned down by Klan; at 3:30, car stopped by police, arrested for “speeding” by Neshoba County Dep. Sheriff Cecil Price. Jailed until 10:30, released Price alerts Klan. Car chase, CHANEY IS DRIVING, stop car, take S,C,G deep into woods, murdered, bodies hidden in earthen dam. LBJ orders FBI into Mississippi, massive investigation(258 agents), $30,000 paid to Klan informers bodies located, killers identified. 21 charged with murder, indictment thrown out. Fed. Grand jury indicts 18 for violating C,G,S’s civil rights under 1870 law. Dec. 1967—only 7 convicted including Price, Sam Bowers(Klan Imperial Wizard).Sentences—3-10yrs. Killers never tried in state court, some still alive and free.
Alan Parker’s “fantasy”—film centers on two FBI agents—Rupert Anderson (Hackman) and Alan Ward(Dafoe) investigate. Ward’s tactics fail, Anderson launches campaign of terror—entrapment, coercion, kidnapping, faked lynching, threatened castration(black FBI agent in charge). Conspirators crack, bodies found, arrests made. Errors: 1)FBI heroes? No, they could have prevented killings had they provided protection. J. Edgar Hoover says, ”No. We don’t guard anybody.” Hoover hates King and Movement. 2)MB’s investigation accurate: No: real investigation: hard work, bribes to informers 3)blacks just minor characters, passive—rescued by FBI, using tactics that mocked the non-violence of the movement.
2) Why So Wrong? Film’s success depends on foreign markets and bankable stars. Just a few are black. Parker: “Our heroes are white.”
3) Unintended Consequences: Film leads reporter Jerry Mitchell(Miss. Clarion-Ledger) to dig into files of Miss. Sovereignty Commission (Miss.’s “KGB”) discovers that SC planted informers(some black) in Freedom Summer project; Medgar Evers file reveals jury tampering, murder case reopened. A) MB’s producer Fred Zollo sued by Sheriff Rainey, Zollo’s attorney locates ex-Klansman Delmer Dennis whose book (Klandestine) documents Evers’s killer (Byron DE La Beckwith)boasting of killing. Dennis agrees to testify at new trial. Beckwith convicted in 1994, 31 years after killing, life sentence, dies in prison.