1964: Three Civil Rights workers murdered, precipitating events

[Marsh discusses Sam Bowers and the commission's connection to the Klan]

Charles Marsh: So whether or not there is some basic level of cooperation that's actually formalized between the two, I think that's an interesting question.

Ed King: OK, that would be good to find out and there may well have been in 62 [?] around the battle of Ole Miss and through 62 with the death of Medger Evers and by 64 if they've even had any kind of formal cooperation. I think it's disintegrated.

CM: Because the Klan violence undermines the white movement.

EK: Yeah, and their public line has been, we can do this by electing the right officials in control of the law. And not that they were averse to violence, but they were averse to as much overt violence as the Klan were doing. Ok. So that the SC does send the information. I think the Klan knows it. Schwerner was acting not just in Meridian but was opening up new counties, we were announcing a summer project all winter. The visibility in a place like Meridian would have been high. Meridian was regarded as a more moderate community, so that they would probably would be bombed living in the black community. Although at that time we weren't that concerned--we knew the bombings were coming. More like would they be shot there. That could happen but they knew it. Mickey was very dedicated to non-violence. Ok… Mickey came to Jackson and stayed in my house. Almost any car coming or leaving the Tougaloo campus was loaded except black students in the middle of the daytime. His presence at the office in Jackson would have been notices. He even stayed over in Jackson overnight so he was a highly visible person. He started doing stuff around the point that that Klan may have actually decided to kill him. In late April early May he talked to me about the visits to the white churches in Jackson.

CM: Whose idea was that?

EK: Well, it was my idea to do it in Jackson, his idea to do it in Meridian--he so believed in non-violence, in love your enemy, in people communicating. And heaping coals of conscience and putting something on people's conscious. Heaping coals to put it on their conscious. So he did one of the last church visits in that kind of campaign and organized a group to go to a Methodist church in Meridian where they were turned away--not arrested, but turned away… You couldn't go to a Baptist church… you'd be arrested for trespassing, you'd be convicted. You were arrested for trespassing at the Methodist church and disorderly conduct, but we felt in the Supreme Court, should you ever get there, the trespass charge wouldn't hold up. And the Methodist church took the honorable position that they would never in court testify that we were trespassing. In fact they washed their hands and would point out that no minister ever asked for anyone to be arrested and how offended they were that the arrest was for trespassing…

The church incident, I have always though, was the thing that really, really turned the Klan and others against Mickey. For some reason the Klan story is late that spring early that summer there was a decision made by Sam Bowers… and there were not to be any terminations, execution, whatever mafia language they used, without the approval of whatever their [bureaucracy] was. Sam Bowers supposedly then gave his imprimatur to killing Schwerner… Ok. So that's the story. And then a trap was set just for Schwerner. And they burned the church just so Schwerner would come back to the county and then they would kill him… So the story goes. And there are people who by that one like they buy that the Klan would be able to do it because the SC was helping them target Schwerner. The SC also had black informants. And the black informants would give them the license plate numbers of movement cars. But the local Police had those things. So supposedly the Klan is just getting itself organized. They make this decision to kill Schwerner… So supposedly he is targeted and his death is approved. Then you have to say with this church burning. Now something Mrs. Coles and her husband talked about was what went wrong when their church was attacked. Now the deputy was there in his deputy uniform. I don't… know whether the sheriff was there or not… What I do know is that the FBI were told that there were people in uniforms there. Ok. I said the church was burned on a Sunday, it wasn't burned on a Sunday, it was burned on a regular weekday night, probably Monday while we're in Ohio, or Tuesday. Then the FBI comes in on Friday… they certainly didn't come the next day… The church burning was on a Tuesday and I'm even thinking the date of the 16th now. The mob of Klansmen outside the church--they attacked the church members--this had been a routine board of stewards meeting at the church. But they would have discussed what they had already approved, letting the church be used by the movement. And they already were under orders from the Methodist bishop to open their churches to the movement. That could have been debated like 'we've already let them speak, but do we as a local church have the authority not to have them have a freedom school in this church?' Not to have a weekday being open; did that really mean this would be the absolute center for the county? So the laity could have had some little [shaky?] But they were fully committed. That it was not a meeting to make that decision. That had already been make. Ok. The leader of the church, Bud Coles, is attacked, several other people are attacked, badly beaten, somebody's shoulder broken. The first reports somebody said I've got a leg broken. Later maybe the entries weren't quite that severe but that's what people though had happened to them. We got the message out there weren't many telephones back then. The fist thing [Bud Coles] was asked is where are the guns? The Klan had a report or list to hand to the policeman who asked him. They threatened to kill him if he doesn't tell where the guns are hidden and they beat him unconscious. And what I've always believed is that they weren't just trying to beat up some people for the fun of it. Their goal was to find out where the weapons were hidden. And not many people ever comment about that…And then he's unconscious and they're trying to beat it out of him, she argues with them that he can't tell you anything, he's already said there aren't any guns, he's unconscious, then they decided maybe they'll kill both of them.

….this is what the Klan was looking for when they burned the church. That sounds to me more reasonable. They were beginning to burn churches. They were beginning to move beyond crosses… They burned churches because they understood that the Christian faith was what inspired the movement and kept it going. And that church was the center of the black community. And that churches could be burned like lynchings if a racial crime had been committed for which there had to be a lynching then if you didn't kill the right black man if any white woman said she had been raped then some black man had to die. If you couldn't kill the right one, you still had to kill some black man. I think the churches were burned eventually at random. And probably more churches were burned who had refused to lead the movement meet in them than target churches. But they were burned even when they weren't willing to witness to the faith because the Klan understood the church… I think some of the bombings were probably not approved by the higher ups in the Klan. And by people who were disappointed that there was nothing they could do… I think people enjoy doing it...

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