William Bradford Huie discusses his book "Three Lives for Mississippi"
BROADCAST: May. 20, 1965 | DURATION: 00:55:15
Author William Bradford Huie discusses his book "Three Lives for Mississippi;" reads passages from book.
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William Bradford Huie In 1957, when he was 18 and preparing to enter Cornell University, Michael Henry Schwerner was also preparing to buy a car. At his home in Pelham, New York, he told his mother he had decided on a Volkswagen. Mickey, his mother said, are you sure you want to buy a German made car? You know about Auschwitz, and you know that some of your relatives were murdered there. So soon after Auschwitz, are you sure you will feel comfortable driving a Volkswagen? I know how you feel, mother, Mickey Schwerner said. But I want to spend my life relieving hate, not preserving it. I see reason to hope that there will never be another Auschwitz. Mickey believed young Germans who said that Germany was changing- that Auschwitz would never happen again. He believed in man, including Germans. So, he wanted to drive a Volkswagen to show his faith in young men and women of all races and religions. I never met Mickey Schwerner. Had I met him, I might have suggested that he limit his belief in man, that he tether his hopes, and I might have predicted that he'd seek and find danger.
Studs Terkel William Bradford Huie reading the opening passages of his book and it's a memorable, powerful one: "Three Lives for Mississippi." In the very opening you read, Bill- Bill Huie seems to have the inexorableness of a Greek tragedy. As though, somehow the disaster is impending there's Mickey Schwerner, of course, and his two colleagues, Jim Chaney and Andy Goodman, who were killed-
William Bradford Huie Oh yes, they had- these were men with a purpose. They believed in the movement. And today, you know, for young people who want to change old forms, we have just two things. We have the Peace Corps if they want to go overseas and try to change ways of life, and in this country, we have the movement. And whatever you may think of it, and why this is the most dramatic movement of your and my time.
Studs Terkel Before, when- naturally we will come to William Bradford Huie himself who lives and Hartselle, Alabama. You may recall, he's been our guest before. Mr. Huie, who is, I think, one of the boldest, most imaginative journalists in our country today, in the true tradition, who remember wrote the story of the murder of Emmett Till, the execution of Private Slovik during the war, the- a recent article on the death of Lemuel Penn, "Americanization of Emily," the film, of course, other works. But you the journalist in this case- how, how this happened. You tackled the subject of helping track down to the secret of the deaths of these three young men.
William Bradford Huie Yes, well, you see, since I live there, and since of course, I I have been to Mississippi, on other stories including the Till story, and since I know men who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, I know the bases of terrorism in our society in the south. Why I was asked to go there and to investigate the case and to try to- then for the book I was asked to try to recreate the victims so that the reader could see them and understand them and also to create the murderers as they are now. And another reason that the book seemed necessary was that it seems unlikely that there will ever be any trial in this case. These men are known, but because
William Bradford Huie Yes, the murderers are known, but because- and there's evidence against them, but it is not believed that they could be indicted for murder in their native county. And for this reason, it's unlikely that there would ever be a trial. And since there cannot be a trial to make them known to the world, why, I was asked to write the book and it will be transl- it is being translated in something like nine languages and it's being published in newspapers around the world.
Studs Terkel It was serialized here, of course- the Chicago Sun-Times. But suppose we begin, Bill Huie, with your detective work. How you recreated the case itself. We first heard of it- we and the rest of the country, heard first of the disappearance of these three young men and then some 44 days later, their bodies were found and you entered in into the case somewhere.
William Bradford Huie I went there within 48 hours after their disappearance and before I went there, I had written a a story for the Sun-Times and other newspapers in this country and elsewhere that they were dead, because you remember that they disappeared on June 21st, 1964 which was just a few hours after the Senate passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was also the first day of the so-called summer invasion of Mississippi and it was the first day of summer and the, the longest day of the year- a long hot day. So, any civil rights workers in Mississippi were missing for a few hours, under those- on that day and under those circumstances, were obviously dead. And it was assumed from almost from the beginning that it had been a planned murder. And since it was a planned murder, and they were given hours to dispose of the bodies, it was never much point actually in searching for the bodies. Whether it's in Chicago, or in Alabama, Mississippi- if you give a group of men time to plan a murder and then give them 24 hours to dispose of the body, there isn't much point in looking for the body. An army can never find the body. So, the only way you're ever going to find them is to get one of the murderers to take it- take you there. And that was the real effort that was being made by the FBI. And at that time, the FBI had not infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in that area of Mississippi. Most people in the country now understand that, for a number of years, the FBI had been working at infiltrating the terrorist group in the south, just as infiltrated the Communist Party. But at that time, this infiltration had not been complete in Mississippi. And so, the FBI did not have an informer in in this group in the two counties in Mississippi that were affected. So, they had to- we had to work. There was only one way and that was to pay money for them and I myself was working with a couple of leads and expected to pay as much as 25,000 dollars for the information as to the
William Bradford Huie Exactly, exactly they are, well, this is in most places in the United States you can purchase a great many people. There are only a few people in America that you can't purchase for 25,000 dollars in cash. 25,000 dollars that the man can deny he ever got and that he doesn't have to pay tax on. Matter of fact, I paid quite a- I paid about 10,000 dollars for the information in this book and it's been my experience over the years that if you carry along 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 dollars in 50-dollar bills, you can go into a man's house with it, and you can get almost anything you had before he let you walk back out. Spread it on the table- spread it on the kitchen table and see whether he lets you get out with it.
William Bradford Huie Well that's, that's an excellent question because it has bothered me some. Just as the ethical question is now before the courts as to what happens. Should a witness be believed? If the FBI- should he be allowed to testify against a man and if he's been paid by the FBI. As for my paying murderers, I'm not proud of it. I justify it and when I actually pull out the money and and pay it to one of these men for information knowing that he is a murderer. And but remember that you can get information only from murderers. In these gang murders, the victims are dead. They're not in a neutral surround, there aren't guys that can come forward and tell you what happened. It happened out in the dark and the only way that anybody can find out what happened is to deal with a guilty man. So, I justify it to myself only on the grounds that it is so important that we know what happened to prevent so that we can publish it, and if we can get them to sign something so that we can use them as witnesses against the others so that we can, with information, we can hope to prevent additional crimes like this. You see we're going to continue to have terroristic crimes in Alabama and Mississippi. The Ku Klux Klan is not going to disappear overnight even under a congressional investigation because the Ku Klux Klan represents a group of men to whom white supremacy, the ideal of white supremacy, or the idea of white supremacy, is almost as important as bread to them. You see we are- we're a slave society, up until 100 years ago, and under slavery, no Negro had any rights at all in court. No Negro could complain against any treatment. White man could kill him, anything else, and he had no case in court. Then what succeeded slavery was white supremacy, which held that the most ignorant and depraved white man was superior to the most accomplished Negro. Now, white supremacy is still very real in Alabama and Mississippi. It's still printed on our ballot. When you vote for the Democratic Party in Alabama, you vote under a slogan that says white supremacy and that's true today. So, the ignorant white man in Alabama and Mississippi today feels that he is threatened economically and more important psychologically by Negro advancement. And I think that I can best illustrat it by this bit of information. Of the men who were present when Michael Schwerner and the other two were murdered, the men who were involved in the murder of Mrs. Liuzzo, and the murder of Lemuel Penn in Georgia, and other murders, you will find that one third to one half of the white men who are present are either filling station operators, or automobile mechanics, or their relatives. And this is because of the situation that an automobile and a filling station creates in a white supremacist society. Take a fairly uneducated white man who's a filling station operator and a Negro in a new automobile drives in pulls up to the gas tank, then, suddenly, the white man is placed in a menial position. He should go out and speak courteously to his customer. He should offer to wipe the windshield. And yet he- this white man finds it absolutely galling. It destroys something in him to have to do this for the Negro customer. And this is the man who is the best candidate to join the Ku Klux Klan and go out and hurt somebody. And this is the type of man that now fills the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama as
Studs Terkel His direct then- he the garage attend- the station attendant, the mechanic, confronts directly his myth, doesn't he? That the myth that there is someone lower than he and suddenly meth is shattered. It's traumatic to him, of course.
William Bradford Huie Day by day. Yes, day by day and so when night comes he has to take a drink of corn whiskey and, and gather with his friends, and try to figure some way to fight back. And remember now that up until now- you see this started in 1954, with what we call Black Monday in the south. The first Supreme Court's school desegregation decision and since that time, and the Till murder, of course, was the first highly publicized murder after Black Monday. Since that time, we've had many of them. But in all those years, these people have been told by our political leaders that they could defy the federal government. That they could defy this, this new effort. See, what it is it's an effort by the United States to compel Alabama and Mississippi to eliminate white supremacy. Just like 100 years ago the United States made war on us and forced us to abolish slavery. Now the United States is making war on Alabama and Mississippi and forcing us to abolish white supremacy. Up until now our demagogues, our political leaders, have told our people that somehow or another we could beat this in the courts, that we could keep white supremacy by going through the courts. Now this is proved untrue. There's no, nowhere to turn now. Beginning July 1st of this year, a Negro girl in Alabama will go to work right alongside white girls and our- as bookkeepers, for instance, in our businesses. We can't prevent this. All of our schools will have some integration, otherwise we lose federal money. There is no way to go to courts now, so the only thing that's left for the white man who feels that he must preserve white supremacy is violence and this is why we have a Ku Klux Klan and why we have the sympathizers with the Klan, and why this will remain a
Studs Terkel And also, the Klansmen and those, or the allies of those, who are themselves, in a strange way, have been deprived. Are there not many not condoning the fact that they are deprived in one way
William Bradford Huie Oh these are men who are being constantly pushed further down the economic scale. You see, these are these are men, most of them are drop outs, school drop outs of some sort. They are not trained to handle machines. They feel that they are going to have a harder time next year than they had this year. And also remember that our political leaders, and the Klan leaders, feel that everywhere in America that every- that most white people will be anti Negro the moment that they are threatened by Negro advancement. The moment that a Negro cost them a job or cost them a promotion. The moment that a Negro moves into the block next to them or the house next to them, that most white people, in the whether it's in the-
Studs Terkel North
William Bradford Huie Yes, everywhere. That that there's a little bit of yearning for white supremacy in most white people throughout the United States. And so, this is what they've tried to exploit and this is what they hope to continue to
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of your book now, Bill Huie. There seem to be three strains in this book. It's almost a parable. It's a true story yet a parable- three strains. The this figure, the Klansman, a killer- the man who lashes out because his myth is destroyed. There's the middle group, the silent group, I'll ask you about them, and then there is Mickey Schwerner and it's to particularly he-there's a protagonist to your book, you read the opening part, it would be Schwerner. A new kind of young man in our society, would seem.
William Bradford Huie Yes. And he's important for this reason. You see, there's this popular saying that God is dead, in America. I don't know whether this is true or not, but certainly it it is no longer true that, that large numbers of our people are devout religiously. And I think perhaps this is true. This is maybe some of the explanation of why the Christian church has now become militant in the matter of social justice. It's because of the so many people no longer believe in one God and no longer believe in a heaven. Now Michael Schwerner represents the Jewish counterpart to the Christian. Michael Schwerner is, is the young Jewish intellectual who does not believe in Judaism. He doesn't believe in one God and a heaven, or any of these things. He b- and since- but he is an idealist. And so, what does he believe in? He believes in man. If he doesn't believe in heaven, he has- he has to believe that heavens can be created on Earth. If he doesn't believe in God, he then has an exaggerated belief in God's creatures.
William Bradford Huie Yes, that's right. So, he has to believe that men are capable of of goodness. This is why he was driving a Volkswagen. He had to believe that there won't be another Auschwitz. He, he had to actually believe in Ku Klux Klansman. He believed that they- their hatreds were, and they were like they were only because of what they had been taught. He believed that they were essentially good and that each each one of them could be reclaimed. That no man was beyond hope. Now this is a, this is a sort of religion that's necessary to these people. Now Schwerner was- is the dedicated idealist. The movement is brought to Mississippi and Alabama. Another type of of a young American, the Beatnik groups, particularly the Beatnik whites, and the girls with the long stringy hair and the old tennis shoes with two holes in them. One holes not enough, there must be two holes in the tennis shoes. And these are people that are rebellious and want to show their contempt for our society one way or the other. But Schwerner wasn't that type of man. He was the social worker who had been in Mississippi for five months. Nor was Andy Goodman that type of young man. Goodman was idealistic not the professional social worker but the young man who had had all the good things of life he'd been reared in a home, cultured home and he felt that he should give a few weeks of his time to trying to make a better world for less privileged Americans.
William Bradford Huie Chaney represents the young Negro who has had to drop out of high school for economic reasons in the south and he has nothing to look forward to in the south. He can only because he himself is untrained he can never be, he'll be called boy all his life and he will have to be some white man's helper and he found purpose. He meets a man like Schwerner- he finds purpose in the movement and this makes him just as dedicated and the only way you're going to stop him is by killing him.
William Bradford Huie Schwerner was, was the prime target for this reason. The, the murder resulted in a, as a result of a plot to kill Schwerner. Because Schwerner was the white man who had been in Mississippi for five months and the plot was to kill a mixer. Now a mixer, to an Alabama and Mississippi, is not a Negro. It's assumed by the white people that all Negroes want to mix. A mixer is a white man who advocates Negroes mixing with whites at the polls, and on the job, and in the schools, and in public places. And so, it was determined by the terrorist in Mississippi that they would kill a mixer. Why? They were going to kill a mixer in the hope of discouraging and deterring other mixers from coming to Mississippi. This was their way of stopping the movement. And, so, Schwerner, it happened, was the most prominent mixer in Mississippi. He was the highest-ranking white man in the movement. And last summer, and Meridian, you see, is the second-largest city in Mississippi. And Meridian was- Schwerner was head of the Meridian Community Center. All of his superiors in the movement in Mississippi that summer were Negroes. This is why he was selected for murder and the decision to kill him was made at least six weeks before he was finally killed. And they were just waiting to catch him in one of the rural counties in Mississippi. The other two were murdered because they were caught with Schwerner-
Studs Terkel You do- obviously, Bill Huie, did a great deal of work, excellent journalism, in creating the picture, the portrait of Schwerner. You were tracking down old friends of his, his wife of course, others, and out of this came this this portrait, this figure.
William Bradford Huie Yes, as you know, when you were dealing with a man who is dead, the only way you can get any feel for him, the only way in which you can quote see him yourself and hope to make others see him as he was, is through the eyes of people who actually knew him. So, you have to go from one to another and say tell me how he reacted, what he believed, what his aspirations were. Tell me how talked, and this sort of thing.
Studs Terkel Bill Huie, William Bradford, I must spring this on you now, I thought I'd save it for later. You are a seasoned journalist. Excellent. And you've covered many of the cases of violation of civil rights, murders, insanity. Killing a man for desertion, chosen by lot almost, and yet, have you encountered a figure such as Schwerner before in your writings?
William Bradford Huie No, I haven't. Moreover, I I have never known Schwerner, a Schwerner. I know the idealistic type, I know the idealistic American. The young American who wants passionately to believe in progress. And I am not quite this type of man. I am not- I'm not sure that I believe in progress. I believe that life is essentially tragic for all men and I I doubt that we can create heavens on this earth. And in a thousand years, if I'm dead, I still think men will still be hating one another and banding together and killing one another. I think that that's inherent in human beings, and I think that all societies and all human beings contain within themselves the seed for their own destruction. So, this goes back to the Greeks, you know. This, so- I am not- I cannot understand completely a man like Michael Schwerner. He also, he made me think though, to this extent, I am somewhat in his position. I no longer believe in one God, and I no longer believe in heaven and hell and many of the things that I was reared to believe in. And at the same time, I cannot replace that lack of belief with the same passionate belief in man that Schwerner and others like him have. So, it's caused me to reflect a good-
Studs Terkel The point I was coming to- whether you, the journalist, the creative figure here, following up on the life, the deeds, the thoughts of a dead man, Mickey Schwerner, you were covering this case where the impact, the impact it's had on you, William Bradford Huie and your thinking-
William Bradford Huie Well its it causes one to reflect for the reasons I've stated there. Now the white man, the murderers, these men I know. I know what motivates them. [lighter flick] That young Chaney, I know him, because of course, generations in the south. My own- I was born in 1910 so- I've been newspapering for more than 30 years and meeting people. So, I understand the Negro people by and large in the south, and I understand young Goodman. But, Schwerner, the dedicated man, the man who finds purpose in his life, and the man who's constantly pushing out, and he himself wants to be present on the firing line and he wants-
William Bradford Huie Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, he gives up these things, you see, to go there. He gave up fine position that he was making something like, eight thousand dollars a year as a young social worker working for one of the finest settlement out of New York. He gives this up and goes to Mississippi for nine dollars a week. So, he certainly is not purchasable. He is- the food he eats is a bottle of pop and some cheese and crackers. It certainly he is not purchasable. This is a man who really believes and these are the men, of course, who- this is what we confront in the movement. There is this difference however between even Schwerner, and this is an interesting division in the movement in the south now. You see, the church, what we just talked- what Schwerner did not believe in, is important to our Southern Negroes, just as it is to our Southern whites. This is why Martin Luther King is so successful as an emotional leader for the for the Southern Negroes. It's because he's a preacher, and moreover that, he believes and, the by and large, the NAACP leaders believe that the church is so important and they want to keep the church for Southern Negroes. And the young militants, like Schwerner and others, they don't. They they- there's even something that you don't quite understand. They work hard, we'll say to integrate a church, but they really don't really don't believe in a church. And so, the question is, today of course, the NAACP is broken in Mississippi, with the militant like [Snake and Corps?], they're not together any longer. They were- they marched together for one year, but that was as far as they could march together. The limit is to how far Mickey Schwerner and Martin Luther King can go together, you see, because they, until they throw the shackles off, they can march together, but then what happens?
William Bradford Huie Right-
Studs Terkel A challenge. We come to- so far there are two strains. I was thinking the three strains in what I call your parable- true story. And the killers themselves, what motivated them, this myth destroyed, the darkness in which, you know, the bleakness of their personal lives. And you got Schwerner representing the opposite end of these. And now we have a middle group, don't we? We have the silent ones, the respectable south that caused the vacuum into which the terrorists move.
William Bradford Huie Yes, these are people first of all who are afraid. Most of the people of the earth, whatever their color and whatever their persuasion, want to live without trouble. They don't want to get involved in courts and they don't want somebody threatening to kill them or threatening to hurt their children. And these people are- I understand. I've always- I once I remember when we landed. A few hours later we landed in Normandy. I was talking to a French family and I asked a man if he had been a member of the resistance. His answer to me was to bring in a four-year-old child and he says no, I was a collaborationist. He said why should I had to have a bread card for my child. And he says no man is brave enough, day by day, face a hungry child. And so now you've come to Europe- and I think that's true. I think this is human. I think that most human beings are this way. And so, this is, this is the way that most of the white people in the south are. They do not want to run the risk of somebody throwing a stick of dynamite on their- at their houses at 3:00 in the morning and risking injury to their children. Or some of the- many of the things they don't get in the newspapers, if you do something that irritates the white supremacist and the terrorists, they may just drive by and shoot your pet dog that you love, you know. Or your children love. This is awfully hard for a man to take, you see. It's a terrible thing to have to risk.
Studs Terkel What about the power structure? It's interesting. That Meridian, you implied here, that had Schwerner remained in Meridian he might not have been injured. Once he hit the rural community of
William Bradford Huie That's right. This makes a- there's a difference between our urban communities and our rural communities. This is why you find that all of, most of these murders, are created- are committed in these rural counties. In Georgia, the Penn murder was just outside Athens, Georgia. They wait 'till they get in a rural county. The Mrs. Liuzzo killing, you see, is not in one- not in the urban county in Montgomery County, Alabama, it's in the old rural county. The same thing is true of Schwerner. They deliberately did not kill him in the urban county. They wait 'till he crosses the line and gets over in the rural county. And this is because your power structure. In your urban counties, there's a force above the police. There's a force that tells the sheriff what to do. These are the men who control the banks and rent the homes and sell the homes. So, they tell the sh- and they know that violence is bad business. Michael Schwerner, despite the fact that he advocated all of these things, and despite the fact that they- all of this change, and despite the fact that he wore a beard, had lived for five months in Meridian and no one had ever even struck him across the face. And this was because that in that area, in that urban county, the power structure had ordered the police not to strike Michael Schwerner, but even more so to make sure that none of the Ku Klux struck him. Because they didn't want anything that would attract the federal authority and the press. Over in your rural county, there is no power structure above the sheriff. The sheriff himself is elected by your so-called good people on the promise that he'll take care of all these outsiders. He'll do it himself. So, he don't have anybody to go, that comes around and orders him what to do. This is why you find the crimes committed in those rural counties.
William Bradford Huie Yes, this, this- these, these people are guilty. All people who stand by while a human being is clubbed to death, they're guilty. And- but, it's difficult to make them realize their guilt. And also, it's just difficult to make activist out of them. Make- the average human being is just not going to take the risk of gunfire in the night.
Studs Terkel You have a remarkable chapter-opening I've marked, here. I think it says read, yes 167, 168, on this very point. On the night that the three were killed the town went on about its business. Where is that? Yeah. Would you mind reading that? Just that its its- it has quite a few-
William Bradford Huie Yes, that's right. For most normal human beings, including those in Mississippi, much of what follows will be incomprehensible. Again, it's like Auschwitz. Many people, including Germans, can't yet comprehend Auschwitz. They know what happened but they can't believe it. Mercifully perhaps, the normal mind shrinks from comprehending murder planned on behalf of a state. On Sunday evening, June 21st 1964, many of the people of Mississippi went to church. They prayed and sang the old songs of faith and hope and tried to feel some measure of forgiveness toward the United States. Toward Earl Warren and Lyndon Johnson, even Martin Luther King. These church people tried not to hate the National Council of Churches for sending the dirtied t-shirts to try to help Mississippi's Negroes. In their hearts, these Mississippi church people tried to accept the Civil Rights Act as the law of the land. Other good people in Mississippi visited their parents because it was Father's Day. Others went bowling, or to drive-in movies and kissed and made love because they were young and it was hot summertime and there was an almost full moon which didn't set until 2:36 am. Others like justice of the peace Leonard Warren of Philadelphia watch television. Ed Sullivan and Bonanza, and What's My Line, and went to bed as soon as the good programs were over. Still others, like the sheriff, visited relatives in hospitals. The sheriff's wife had been in a Meridian hospital for several days. He was concerned about her and his two young sons without their mother. He had had a cot placed in her room, and one or two nights he'd slept in the hospital room with her and sped back to a job in Philadelphia 36 miles away. But perhaps as many as 40 citizens in Mississippi spent Sunday evening committing a criminal act against the United States of America. These citizens, with the help of the law, committed a planned murder for the purpose of dramatizing Mississippi's defiance of the laws of the United States. I think this a point that should be emphasized again. This murder- the men who committed this murder did not think that they were acting against the laws of Mississippi. They thought that they were acting for Mississippi and its conflict with the United States. Comes back to something I said earlier- you see, we are being forced in these white supremacist societies. We are now being compelled by the conscience of the nation and by the United States of America to change. And it is in resisting this change that these crimes were committed.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking too, Bill, of these two pages you read. If I were to choose two pages in this quite remarkable book as the key, it will be these two. That- there we are. Good people, decent people, quotes about it, completely alienated though, from themselves, really because of this myth by which they live. Seeing TV, visiting his sick wife, Sheriff Rainey in this instance-
William Bradford Huie Yes yes, well I know the questions, I don't know all the answers. I do know that change is occurring in the south, as I say- And once again, I don't refer to that. I never, never again do I use the term the South because the South has so many things now, and its parts differ so so greatly. Alabama and Mississippi and portions of Georgia and north Louisiana are the- and some of what we call West Florida. These are the areas that find it most difficult to change. These are the areas where white supremacy is is bred into white people and these are the areas where the poor white man feels most threatened today. And therefore he is dangerous when you start compelling him to change.
William Bradford Huie Yes, that's that's exactly right. And and the people, the Ku Klux, believe that every white citizen has a little Ku Klux in him and at the moment that he's really pushed, or really threatened, and the Negro advancement cost him some money, or cost him some position, or causes him to worry about status, that he himself may suddenly decide to change his politics.
William Bradford Huie Yes, this is always true. Remember the murders of young Emmett Till? One of the men who actually committed the murder had won the battlefield commission and the Silver Star. And this is part of- you see, these men live very close to violence. They come up as children they are taught to use guns. They kill animals, and therefore human life is is- one human life is just doesn't seem as precious to them. And then they just accustomed to having guns in their hands. And so, this, this, this is the reason that they make so good soldiers. It's true that the soldiers from the state of Mississippi have won more Congressional Medals of Honor than from any other state. If you have to lead a night patrol in Vietnam and kill people with your bare hands, or with knives, during the night patrol-
William Bradford Huie Yes, oh yes, of course, if it's, if it's another challenge to white supremacy. Why, yes, killing comes easier to them. Killing for you and me, I would say, is a question as to whether either you or I are actually capable of taking a knife and ramming it into another man's viscera. But, these men are capable of that. And so, this is what makes good soldiers out of them. And this is why they can of course, it doesn't take anything doesn't, it doesn't take a brave man to pull up alongside Mrs. Liuzzo and shoot her. It doesn't take a brave man to kill a young Emmett Till. Or doesn't take a brave man, or a bunch of them, to take completely unarmed man.
William Bradford Huie Yes, well in any case they are absolutely helpless. They have no arms. They have committed no crime. They haven't hurt anybody and this this takes the type of man who can, who can- look, take the man who fired the shots and actually killed these men. They were standing either in handcuffs or they were completely helpless. They were unarmed. These men didn't even know the names of the men. They didn't even know- most of them didn't even know Schwerner's name. They certainly didn't know the names of the other two-
William Bradford Huie That's right. They know that, they know that the two white boys are Jewish. They've referred to them as such. And of course, the boy is a Negro. And so, but these, these men have not hurt anybody. They hadn't raped anybody's sister, they haven't murdered anybody, they haven't even broken any law. So, this takes a particularly virulent type of hatred. Of a man take a pistol and fire a shot into a man's, man's heart and take his body out and bury him like a dog into a dam with a bulldozer. So, this, but this is what race hate does to men. Race hate, race hate and religious hate. The great crimes against humanity had been committed, you know, by men who think they're doing right. See the men who killed these three think they were doing right. Moreover, they usually have a primitive preacher of some sort who assures them that they're doing God's will, and perhaps says a prayer over them. And al-also remember that these are not common criminals. These are not men usually with police records. This is one of the reasons that makes it difficult to to apprehend, them to find them. Here in Missi- here in Chicago, when a crime is committed, a serious crime is committed, nine times out of ten you'll find your criminal already in your criminal file. Or you run to the file, you've got nine chances out of ten of getting something to go on right there. This is not true of the men who commit your race crimes.
William Bradford Huie That's right. They are not men with with previous criminal records. They may have been fighting, they may be belligerent, but they haven't broken into banks, they haven't stolen anything, they haven't heard anybody.
William Bradford Huie To prosecute anybody for murder, you know, you have to indict. A grand jury has to indict. And that-this means that the white people of Neshoba County, 18 white men would have to enter a grand jury room and 12 of them would have to vote for an indictment. You have to do this before you can ever have a trial. And it is- this is the reason that the authorities in Mississippi have not moved against them. They have evidence. Evidence was given to them by FBI. The reason they
William Bradford Huie That's right, that's exactly- this was a crime of police complicity. This is what sets the Mississippi crime apart from all of the others. See we are familiar with lynching. Lynching is where terrorists overcome the police and take a defendant or the accused man out and they themselves inflict punishment on him. What we have here is a case of what's known as summary punishment. This is where the police joined the lynchers. They don't give a man a trial. The police themselves go out and help them do the killing. And this is what sets this crime apart. This is what makes this a landmark crime in these racial crimes. This is why the book was written. Because of necessity to understand what summary punishment does. This is, this is a crime that was made a crime a thousand years ago and our English common law. This was a crime in ancient Rome. Summary punishment has always been recognized as the the greatest injustice that a society can do to an individual.
Studs Terkel You have a suggestion, perhaps some way, because quite clearly this is a picture, of course, that throws you as you watch Sheriff Rainey, the Deputy Sheriff Price, and their codefendants grinning quite, quite confidently, of course, and justifiably comfortably. Confidently and comfortably. You have a suggestion. You mentioned they're called anti-terrorists-
William Bradford Huie Well, so many Americans, one -after I, after reading this book, or after they talk to me, or after they reflect on these cases, they feel frustrated. They want to know what can be done so that these men can be punished. It's a real problem for us in the south until we punish, as long as these men go unpunished, it's an invitation for other men to do the same. I have to worry about it myself. Because I could perhaps be murdered in Alabama now. The man that shot me might be well, be elected governor instead of convicted of something. And so, the problem is what are we going to do. Is there, is there are some law we can pass. Well, essentially, it's very difficult to do anything about it because we believe in trial by jury. Trial by jury is as sacred in our free society as freedom of speech. So, when you talk to any American about abrogating or changing trial by jury in some way, well you're offending him and frightening. But the plain fact is that trial by jury assumes that the jury had opposed the murder and all murder. When you have a situation where the jurors just are not opposed to murder, then trial by jury won't work. And it's already been demonstrated the trial by jury simply would not work in these cases. However, there is one step that we could go take perhaps that would give us a different type of jury. The trouble here is that a murder, murder has to be tried in the county in which it's committed. Every defendant has a right to be tried in that county. People have talked about change of venue about why can't you take a man out of this county or some other county and try him. Well we can't do that because under our system only the defendant can ask for a change of venue. See, under our great free society we have spent 180 years erecting bulwarks for the defendant. The defendant is the man we've always wanted to protect. Well these defendants are inheritors of all of those safeguards you see in Mississippi. So how do we- have what can we possibly do? Well one of the things you can do is you can make it a federal offense. Now they still have to be tried by a federal jury, but then they still has to be drawn from the white man of Mississippi. But in a, in a federal jury, we mentioned the difference earlier here, and thinking in urban counties and rural counties. The federal jury is drawn, the venire, the group of men from which a jury picked, is drawn from as many as 30 counties, including urban counties and rural counties, and those men are further removed from the crime. And so even in Mississippi-
William Bradford Huie Exactly, exactly. They are not sitting right under the gun like the others. They don't feel as threatened by the position they may take. That should be pointed out, you see, if these men were tried for murder in Neshoba County, each each man who sat on the jury would be known to them, a verdict-
William Bradford Huie It has to be unanimous. Moreover, a defendant [match lighting] can- if such a verdict were brought in, a defendant can poll the jury. A juror, each juror, has to stand up and say I voted guilty. Not only just on the record, he has to stand up in the courtroom and say he did. A federal trial gives you a a a more representative- a jury that's capable of more objectivity. So, I hope that we do have further legislation which makes this type of crime a federal crime instead of a state crime. So that these jurors could be, these defendants could- their case could be considered by federal grand juries. And then if they were indicted, they could be tried by, in federal court.
William Bradford Huie Yes, I think such legislation will be passed within the next 12 months. I know that the Justice Department is studying such legislation. But once again, it comes to this problem of a free society-
Studs Terkel Yes,
William Bradford Huie Isn't very well equipped to deal with terrorism. Terrorism can on- you have to fight fire with fire. Terrorism, really, has to be fought with terroristic acts. This was true. This was proved in Algeria for instance, two or three years ago. See, if you're a terrorist could be fought- if the FBI could use the same terrorist methods against them, that they employ, they could soon stamp them out. They could go out and take them without a trial and and torture them, whip them,
Studs Terkel Speaking of terror, or peril, William Bradford Huie lives in Hartselle, Alabama. You've lived there for eight generations, your family has. Where are you in the scheme of things in view of your celebrations?
William Bradford Huie I have. I have a good many people who carry guns who wouldn't object to catching me with my back turned in the dark some night. But I I can't really say that I myself am afraid. The only thing that bothers me is that my father is 83. My mother is 75 and it causes some an- my wife is my age and it causes some anxiety for my family. But other than that, my my home is well lighted and the grounds are well lighted and then you see I have not- It's not because I'm so much braver than anybody else. See, I have a great advantage. My sources of income cannot be attacked by my political enemies in Alabama. If I were- because of my books and sold around the world. If I worked for some particular company in Alabama and if all my income was derived in Alabama, I'd have stat- this this comes back to collaboration. I had to keep quiet too.
William Bradford Huie Which reminds me, you mentioned some, you mentioned some big Toms in the book. Some Uncle Toms who became collaborators with segregation and racism. This is the nature of pressure upon them.
Studs Terkel Oh yes, the, the Negro with money in the south. You know, he's always been sort of a hostage. He he has so much to lose. He has always been used against other Negroes. He has been forced to keep other Negroes in line. And this, of course, goes started in slavery and the slave days. You see, you used the superior Negro to handle the other Negroes even inflict the punishment. The films that are shown back in slave days it's a white man who's doing the whipping, but actually, usually, it was a Negro who was whipping the Negro slaves because he was the sergeant who ran things. The white man didn't actually do this. It depended on the Negros and the same things true now. You depend on the white power structure, depends on its prosperous Negro to handle the rest of the Negro community and, of course, this is why so many of your young Negro militants bitterly assailed these men as Toms, or Uncle Toms, or big Toms.
William Bradford Huie Oh yes, I was threatened and he has the advantage over me, too, because he can run to the police and even in some cases, I'm not sure that the a big Tom doesn't give the Ku Klux some information for his own protection.
Studs Terkel Amazing how the question of pressures can work and property possession of it, in this sense it's becoming the the man's chain. And the book, by the way the book we're talking about is "Three Lives of Mississippi," that I'm sure most listeners are acquainted with and serialized in the Sun-Time-but the book itself, with our guess William Bradford Huie, author, is a powerhouse. It's Trident Press, isn't it?
William Bradford Huie Yes, it's actually published by the the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. It was- this is a- the idea was inspired by a newspaper syndicate, which includes the Sun-Times. I did the original newspaper work and then the idea for the book was theirs and this has been partially serialized. About a third of it had been run in many newspapers, including the Sun-Times, the New York Herald Tribune.
Studs Terkel Well I 'cause I I think it's more than a powerful piece of journalism, which it is. I think it's a parable. It's about us, too, I should say. Mr. Huie opened and opened reading the first passages in the book description of the kind of man Schwerner was. Perhaps he can read the last part in which you talk to one of the killers, one of the murderers.
William Bradford Huie Yes, this actually, this conversation actually occurred. Momentarily, I comforted one of the murderers and then left him confused. I said, well you were correct on one point. You killed Schwerner because, you said, he was an agitating, troublemaking, nigger loving, communist, atheistic, Jew, outsider. It's true that he called himself an atheist. He did, huh? I was asked. He didn't believe in nothing? Oh yes, I said he believed in something. He believed devoutly. What did he believe in? He believed in you., I said. In me? What the hell? Yeah, I said. He believed in you. He believed love could conquer hate. He believed love could change even you. He didn't think you were hopeless. That's what got him killed. As I say, that left the murderer somewhat confused.