Racism and Jim Crow

How Could You Let Klansmen Bury Murdered Civil Rights Activists on Your Property?

Millions of Americans know the names of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in June 1964.

Who killed them? That question has been investigated and debated through the decades. Federal authorities indicted 18 men for the crime, including the county sheriff and deputy sheriff. Seven men were convicted, including two men who confessed their guilt. None served longer than six years in prison.

Among those acquitted was Olen Burrage, owner of the ground in which the three men were buried. Burrage was acquitted, despite the testimony of one of the two confessed killers to Burrage's complicity.

Olen Burrage died Sunday, aged 84.

From a story by reporter Jerry Mitchell in the local paper, the Clarion-Ledger:

The last time I spoke with Olen Burrage, it was by telephone.

The trucking firm operator from Philadelphia, Miss., then in his early 80s, seemed jovial, upbeat, happy about life — until I shared my reason for calling. … When I called Burrage that day, it was in hopes of him answering that question: How could a bunch of Klansmen have slipped onto your property in the dead of night, run a bulldozer and buried three bodies 15 feet down without you hearing or knowing something?

I had hoped to ask Burrage that question, but what I heard instead was a click, followed by a dial tone.