Newest information on Mississippi murders involving African Americans and/or Mississippi politicians and leaders.
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An old Mississippi Delta crime is now drawing some attention ...
New office would open cold cases from civil rights era
By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
September 29, 2005
WASHINGTON - In the Mississippi Delta during the tumultuous 1960s, voting rights advocate Birdia Keglar never made it home after meeting with then-Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Highway patrolmen said Keglar, a businesswoman and the first black person in her county to vote since Reconstruction, and her friend Adena Hamlett, an elderly former teacher, died in a car accident.
But when the bodies of the two black women were found they bore the signs of intentional mutilation and murder. The fact that both had been warned by the Ku Klux Klan to stop pushing for voting rights added to the suspicion they had been killed.
Nearly 40 years after their deaths on Jan. 11, 1966, the case has remained unsolved, and essentially uninvestigated until the publication this year of "Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited" by author Susan Klopfer, who also probed other still-open violent crimes from that era.
Now, a bipartisan push has begun in Congress to create a new Department of Justice office that would be dedicated solely to investigating such very cold civil rights cases.
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Sixties voting rights advocate Birdia Keglar was murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen on her way home to Charleston, Mississippi after meeting with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in Jackson.
Keglar's January 11, 1966 death and the murders of her best friend and then her youngest son have never been resolved or even investigated by law enforcement agencies - local, state or federal.
Susan Orr-Klopfer, author of a new book on civil rights in the Mississippi Delta, believes these three "cold case" murders should get the immediate attention of a new Unsolved Crimes Section of the Justice Department.
Under a measure approved Thursday by the U.S. Senate, the new office would target such pre-1970 racially motivated homicides that remain unsolved because of lax state and federal prosecution at the time they occurred.
The bill was inspired by recent efforts to reopen the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American youngster who was murdered in 1955 while visiting relatives in the Delta.
"Young Till’s crime was whistling at a white woman while inside a small grocery store. For this, he was lynched and the men who admitted committing the crime went free.
"Birdia Keglar’s crime, 11 years later, was to advocate for voting rights. She and her friend Adlena Hamlett were driving home from Jackson after meeting with Senator Robert F. Kennedy to talk over civil rights issues. But their car was stopped in a small Delta town where they were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Klansmen.
"Very likely, the Klansmen who killed Keglar and Hamlett were also highway patrolmen. Both women’s bodies were mutilated – both were decapitated and Hamlett’s arms were cleanly severed from her body," Klopfer said.
"Their deaths were attributed to a car wreck by officials. But the car disappeared along with Keglar’s briefcase and witnesses were threatened with murder if they did not remain quiet."
Three months later, after Keglar’s youngest son went to Washington D.C. trying to learn what happened to his mother, he was murdered.
"James Keglar was knocked unconscious and burned alive in his house. This happened hours after he was released from a Clarksdale, Mississippi jail on a bogus charge. He was expecting help from the FBI but it never came, according to his brother."
Klopfer’s book, "Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited," details these Mississippi Delta murders and dozens of others, including the lynching of young Till.
The book contains newly discovered information on several other Mississippi civil rights murders including "strong evidence that civil rights leader Medgar Evers was not murdered by Byron de la Beckwith who was finally convicted for the crime, but by a friend of Beckwith’s, another member of the Klan who was Beckwith’s superior," Klopfer said.
Klopfer lived in the Mississippi Delta in employee housing on the prison grounds of Parchman Penitentiary for two years while she researched and wrote her 680-page book that contains over 1,400 footnotes as well as names and information regarding nearly 1,000 black people who were lynched in the state – "a small representation of the racial murders and lynching that have taken place in Mississippi," Klopfer said.
Senator Jim Talent, R-Mo., sponsored Thursday’s legislation with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. The Senate voted by unanimous consent to add the measure to an appropriations bill that is expected to pass the Senate this week, according to Associated Press reports. The bill was introduced by Talent and Dodd in July after a Mississippi court sentenced former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen to 60 years in jail for the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.
"There are 13 Klansmen mentioned in the book who are known to the FBI and still living in Mississippi who helped murder Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Robert Goodman. Yet no one has been prosecuted except for Preacher Killen who was not at the murder scene. Maybe some progress will finally come about because of this Senate bill," Klopfer said.
Klopfer said she feels closest to the Keglar and Hamlett murders, however. "These were two older, established Mississippi black women – Adlena Hamlett was 77-years-old and was a well-respected teacher for many years.
"Birdia Keglar was a business woman who was trying to start a local chapter of the NAACP. She was the first black person in her county to vote since Reconstruction following the Civil War. She was earlier represented in federal court by John Doar of the U.S. Department of Justice and was Doar’s first voting rights test case when he came into Mississippi after the election of President John F. Kennedy."
One of Adlena Hamlett’s granddaughters in August told Klopfer about going with Hamlett to the courthouse square as a child to request a ballot.
"Nina Zachery said the clerk tore up the ballot and ordered their departure. But Zachery’s grandmother said not to worry because she – Nina – would be able to vote one day, and that was all that mattered. Hamlett and Keglar were later hanged in effigy at the Tallahatchie Courthuse and were strongly warned by Klansmen to stop their voting rights activities."
Klopfer is the first journalist to write about Keglar and Hamlett. "I learned about this story from a nurse at Parchman whose wife was a relative of Mrs. Keglar. Very little was known about them and it took the entire two years to piece this story together – it was very complicated with numerous entanglements that reached from the Delta to Washington, D.C."
Klopfer also asserts it was significant that Sen. Edward Kennedy led off the questioning of Chief Justice nominee John Roberts on his Senate confirmation hearing this past week.
"Sen. Kennedy reminded Roberts that people died for the right to vote. Sen. Kennedy is concerned about reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – and opposition to equal voting rights and other civil rights supplied the motives for all of the murders listed in this book."
Klopfer left Mississippi at the end of August and said she added newly discovered information to the book even as she was packing to leave.
"Some people have referred to it as the 'secret government' of the United States. It is not an elected body, it does not involve itself in public disclosures, and it even has a quasi-secret budget in the billions of dollars. This government organization has more power than the President of the United States or the Congress, it has the power to suspend laws, move entire populations, arrest and detain citizens without a warrant and hold them without trial, it can seize property, food supplies, transportation systems, and can suspend the Constitution.
"Not only is it the most powerful entity in the United States, but it was not even created under Constitutional law by the Congress. It was a product of a Presidential Executive Order. No, it is not the U.S. military nor the Central Intelligence Agency, they are subject to Congress. The organization is called FEMA, which stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Originally conceived in the Richard Nixon Administration, it was refined by President Jimmy Carter and given teeth in the Ronald Reagan and George Bush Administrations.
"FEMA had one original concept when it was created, to assure the survivability of the United States government in the event of a nuclear attack on this nation. It was also provided with the task of being a federal coordinating body during times of domestic disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Its awesome powers grow under the tutelage of people like Lt. Col. Oliver North and General Richard Secord, the architects on the Iran-Contra scandal and the looting of America's savings and loan institutions. FEMA has even been given control of the State Defense Forces, a rag-tag, often considered neo-Nazi, civilian army that will substitute for the National Guard, if the Guard is called to duty overseas."Continued ...