In mid-June, after two hours of deliberation, a Mississippi jury found reputed Klansman James Ford Seale, 71, guilty on kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the deaths of Charles Moore and Henry Dee.
When Seale was arrested, almost 43 years after the murders, the story generated international attention. But it wasn't always that way as recently as 2005, when the investigation into the deaths was reopened. Mississippi's alternative newsweekly, the Jackson Free Press, spearheaded coverage of Moore's efforts to avenge his brother's death. (Several of those pieces also appeared in Thomas Moore's adopted-hometown newspaper, the Colorado Springs Independent.)
But the newspaper in the county where the murders actually occurred took a different tack. In a signed front-page editorial, editor Mary Lou Webb announced her refusal to publish any stories about the investigation into the heinous murders, which she described as "1960s racial incidents."
This was Webb's explanation to readers on July 28, 2005:
"The Franklin Advocate has weighed the issues and decided not to "revisit' the 1960s racial incidents which took place in this county and Southwest Mississippi," she wrote. "The editor sees no new evidence no reason to put a new generation through painful memories. In less than two weeks Franklin County children will be in school preparing for the future while making new friends. How precious those friendships will grow as time passes.
"Halfway around the world our young people are dying because their young people were not allowed to forgive and forget. Let that not be the legacy we leave our children."
When Moore, now 63, saw that, he couldn't believe his eyes. He responded with a lengthy, passionate letter to the editor. Some excerpts:
"Your desire and efforts to censor our angry, bloody past, remove it from history, misinform and misguide our children, will only fan the small flames of justice I have helped to rekindle throughout Franklin County this summer. You see no new evidence because your eyes are closed."
Thomas Moore, who served two tours in Vietnam, and also in Korea and Panama,addressed Webb's comparison of rural Mississippi to the theater of the war on terror.
"I say we still have terrorists living ... in Franklin County," he wrote. "What is the difference between someone who blows themselves up to kill their enemy and someone who chains two souls to a jeep motor and throws them into the Mississippi River after torturing them and whipping them?
"These same people terrorized the black and white communities through coordinated efforts of cross burnings, propaganda and whisper campaigns, beatings, murders and explosions. The Klan and its supporters were and are as fundamentalist in their beliefs and actions as the suicide bombers we've seen in Iraq.
"Mary Lou, there is no difference."
Like the story about the investigation, Moore's letter never appeared in the rural Mississippi newspaper. Believing Moore's message is indeed necessary, and universal,we wrote about Webb's unconscionable stance and Moore's response (csindy.com/csindy/2005-10-06/publiceye.html). Today, we're noting it again. Such horrors of the past must never, ever, be brushed aside as irrelevant.
Last month, eight white jurors and four black jurors found Seale guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy for his role in the 1964 murders of the teens, who were, according to the FBI, abducted while hitchhiking. They were driven into a national forest, tied to a tree and beaten with long sticks until they were nearly dead. Ultimately, they were weighted down and dumped into the Mississippi River. Their bodies were found nearly two months later.
Seale faces a maximum life sentence for each charge.
The Independent could not reach Thomas Moore at his Colorado Springs home, but immediately after the verdict, he spoke with the Jackson Free Press.
"Mississippi spoke today," he said.
Loud and clear.
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