PHILADELPHIA, Miss. — The murders of three young civil rights workers bent on registering black voters during 1964’s “Freedom Summer” still haunts this tiny town in central Mississippi.
Jewel Rush McDonald shudders at the thought of the beatings her mother and brother endured at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan five days before the murders. Stanley Dearman bemoans the four decades it took to get even one manslaughter conviction, and only after he badgered state officials in his weekly newspaper.
James Young recalls the tension of being the only black pupil in his elementary school class at the time of the murders, when poll taxes and literacy tests helped keep 95% of eligible blacks in Mississippi from voting. After dark in those days, he says, “we were told to be in the house.”
But “things have changed in the South,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said June 22, 2009, almost 45 years to the day since the murders. It was one line in the court’s most recent decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and though it kept the law largely intact, Roberts warned the act’s days might be numbered.