BILL MINOR: Ed King: Conscience and photographer

BILL MINOR

BILL MINOR

One of my most disturbing memories covering the civil rights era was seeing Ed King in clerical collar and ministerial garb yanked off the steps of the old federal courthouse and tossed into a Jackson police paddy wagon.

It was on May 30, 1963. King, then chaplain at predominantly black Tougaloo College, was at that time the only native white Mississippian involved in the struggle. He had gone that day with several black ministers to make Christian witness that blacks were not alone in the struggle for civil rights.

There was no riot or disorderly demonstration, the ministers were there to simply appeal (on their knees on what they believed was federal property) to Mayor Allen Thompson to initiate biracial dialogue.

Before they could open their mouths, white police officers put them under arrest, allegedly for disturbing the peace.

This is about Ed King, who with an inexpensive 35mm camera, took candid snapshots of some of the nation’s most celebrated black local leaders when they were on the ground in Mississippi to talk with local blacks about developments in the civil rights movement. Because Ed King was the only trusted Mississippi white who had fought in the trenches with local blacks, he was given free run. Imagine a shot of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. then head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, standing on a street corner of Philadelphia, MS in July, 1964.

The three young civil rights workers from Freedom Summer had gone missing only five days before and their fate was unknown when Dr. King led a SCLC delegation to Neshoba County where the three were last seen. Chief reason for the SCLC group’s coming was to view the charred remains of Mt. Zion Church, and speak with church elders who had been beaten by a band of Klansmen who set fire to the rural sanctuary. The Mt. Zion fire was why the three young men, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman had been drawn to Philadelphia.

Ed King had thought his snapshots were too unprofessional to backstop a book on the summer of 1964, and he gave more than 40 of the unpublished photos to the Mississippi Department of Archives and history.

The University Press of Mississippi thought differently and eventually produced “Ed King’s Mississippi Behind the Scenes of Freedom Summer.” The book hits books shelves in October.

King opens up one mystery about the Neshoba murders which still beguiles many Mississippians: How FBI agents knew where the bodies of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney had been buried after they were murdered in a Klan plot. The ex-Tougaloo chaplain tells that a black cafeteria worker at the college confided to him she had learned from a respected white woman in Philadelphia that the bodies were under a newly built dam but she didn’t know where. The white woman had sworn to secrecy as to her identity for fear of being harmed. King said he brought the information to the attention of FBI agents but they brushed him off.

As has been known for years, the bodies were found buried under six feet of dirt in a farm pond dam five miles outside Philadelphia. The farm owner denied knowing anything of the bodies and was never convicted of any crime.

Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at edinman@earthlink.net.