Dearman honored for editorials on ‘Mississippi Burning’ case

Published 9:08 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Stanley Dearman, retired editor of The Neshoba Democrat, will receive the University of Mississippi’s highest journalism award for his editorials that pushed authorities to bring state charges, decades after the fact, in the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers.

The Silver Em award bill be presented to Dearman at an April 19 banquet in Oxford.

In 2000, Dearman pushed authorities to pursue charges for the first time against the killers of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. The case was portrayed in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.”

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“It’s time for an accounting,” Dearman wrote. “We hope that the attorney general and the district attorney conclude that the case can be effectively prosecuted. It’s time.”

Dearman wrote: “None of this would be an issue if a group of self-appointed saviors of the status quo had not taken it upon themselves to murder three unarmed young men who were arrested on a trumped up traffic charge and held in jail like caged animals until night fell and they could be intercepted by the Ku Klux Klan.”

He characterized the Klan as “cowardly nightriders whose bravery increases in direct proportion to their numbers and how long the sun has set.”

On June 21, 2005 — exactly 41 years after the three civil rights workers were abducted, killed and buried in a red clay dam in Neshoba County — a local jury convicted one-time local Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen of manslaughter.

Dearman was editor and publisher of The Neshoba Democrat, a weekly newspaper, for more than three decades until he retired in 2001. A 1959 Ole Miss graduate, Dearman was editor of the campus newspaper his senior year.

He took over operation of The Neshoba Democrat at a time the county had become infamous for the disappearance of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman during the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign.

Though seven Klansmen were found guilty of federal conspiracy charges in 1967, the case was never prosecuted by the state until Dearman and others called for action. He and other Philadelphia residents used the 25th anniversary of the case in 1989 to begin pushing for justice.

Andrew Goodman’s mother, Carolyn Goodman of New York, traveled to Mississippi to pay tribute to Dearman when he retired.

“You gave to me and my family an understanding and warmth that we needed so desperately at a time when it seemed our wounds would never be healed,” she told him at a reception.

Dearman was nominated for the Silver Em by Jerry Mitchell, a reporter for The Clarion-Ledger who won the award in 2000 for his own work that helped with several convictions in old civil rights murder cases.

The Silver Em has been awarded yearly since 1958. Among the winners are the late Turner Catledge, a Neshoba County native who went on to become managing editor of The New York Times; Bill Minor, a figure in Mississippi journalism for 60 years; Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times; William Raspberry, former columnist for The Washington Post; and three late Mississippi editors and publishers who won Pulitzer Prizes for defying local conventions: Hodding Carter, Hazel Brannon Smith and Ira Harkey.