Students learn about 1964 Neshoba Civil Rights workers' murders

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Mississippi man said educating young people about our state's racially turbulent past is necessary to creating a better future. Leroy Clemmons is using a documentary about a quest for justice for the 1964 Neshoba County murders of three Civil Rights Workers as the lesson plan.

Clemmons is the cofounder of the Philadelphia Coalition, a multi-racial group was part of the push to hold former klansman Edgar Ray Killen accountable for three murders more than 40 years after the fact.

Clemmons spoke at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's black history program. Although he was born two years before the bodies of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were pulled from the Mississippi River, Clemmons said he grew up knowing nothing about the murders.

"When you travel to other places and mention that you're from Philadelphia, Mississippi you get this look of disdain from people," Clemmons said. "As a person who didn't know my history, I had know idea why they were looking at me like that."

Clemmons showed college students "Neshoba: The Price of Freedom" a documentary by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pangano which has candid interviews from former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen. Although 40 years after the murders, Clemmons said it was hard to get local people to do interviews for the film.

"Unless you lived through that and understood the level of fear that existed you will never understand the story and because of the trauma that was associated with the Klan," said Clemmons. "Because the Klan was a unit that either you were with us or you were against us and it didn't matter what color you were."

"The Klan wasn't just against black people or Native Americans, or minorities. They were against anyone who did not agree with their philosophy." Clemmons said. "So that level of fear existed throughout the community."

Clemmons stressed it's not just important for people to know what happened, but why it happened.

Nancy Daniels, a student, said, "Knowing how far we came from back then till now and we can see how horrible it was."

"We can't expect anything different if we don't do different and we cannot do different if we do not know different," said student Karen Snowden.

Yreffej Osbourne also a student said, "Most of the time history is bound to be repeated. If it's taught now, we can prevent it from being repeated in the future."

In 2005, Killen was convicted of three counts of manslaughter for the deaths of the civil rights workers in Neshoba County. He was sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.