Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Philadelphia Story

Today in Philadelphia, Miss., a great wrong was rectified--somewhat. Though Klansmen Edgar Ray Killen was only convicted on a manslaughter charge and not the more appropriate charge of first degree murder (which in this case was applicable under Mississippi law), the families of slain civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney may now gain some measure of satisfaction that both the state of Mississippi and the country at large have finally acknowledged their complicity in the racial terrorism of the past.

The sins of the past can never be erased, however; we can't bring those young men back, nor can we compensate their families for all the pain and suffering which their deaths caused. We can, however, seek to bring about the more just society toward which they were working. While we worry about foreign terrorist threats that seem to exist only in the imaginations of opportunistic fear-mongers, there is real terror happening in this country: the terror of hunger and homelessness and disease that exists both in our inner cities and rural hamlets, on the streets and behind closed doors. Poverty is real, unemployment and hopelessness and despair are real. There is physical and emotional violence being done to the weakest and most needy of our society every single day. The true terrorist threat is not from a bomb or a virus; it is the harm we as a country do to ourselves when we look the other way.

So let the souls of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney rest in peace tonight, but let us not give up their fight for the beloved community of which Dr. King dreamed. We owe them that as surely as we owed them today's verdict.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity..
-----Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

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