GULF BREEZE, Fla. — Mississippi editor Stanley Dearman, who pushed for justice in the murders of three civil rights workers, died on Saturday in Florida. The death of the 84-year-old was announced by the newspaper in Philadelphia, Mississippi, that he once published.
Dearman wrote articles and editorials in The Neshoba Democrat that helped lead to conviction of a former Klansman in the 1964 killings. His funeral and burial were held in Philadelphia yesterday.
The civil rights workers — Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner — disappeared on June 21, 1964. A deputy sheriff in Philadelphia had arrested them on a traffic charge and released them, but not before alerting a mob. Their bodies were dug up 44 days later under a dam, after Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax.
The murders inspired the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.”
In 1967, the federal government charged 18 people with depriving the workers of their civil rights. Only seven were convicted.
Dearman purchased the Democrat in 1966 and ran it for 34 years. After his retirement, he became a founding member of the Philadelphia Coalition, a multiracial citizens’ group that pushed for further prosecutions in the killings.
“Come hell or high water, it’s time for an accounting,” Dearman wrote in a 2000 editorial in the Democrat.
Susan Glisson, former head of the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, said Dearman had tears in his eyes as he walked into a 2004 news conference when coalition members first called for justice in the case.
“He said ‘I never thought I would live to see this day,”’ Glisson wrote in a remembrance on Facebook. “I told him how much he had done to make it happen.”
Eventually, Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, who had been charged in the 1967 trial but went free after the jury couldn’t come to a verdict, was charged with murder. He was convicted of manslaughter in 2005 by a state court jury — exactly 41 years after the killings. Killen remains confined at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Dearman told a reporter from The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada that he was haunted by the case. At the time of the killing, he had been a reporter in nearby Meridian, where Chaney lived and Schwerner had been based.
“More than anything else, it is a personal thing,” he told the Canadian newspaper in 2001. “At some point, it entered into my psyche and started working. I don’t fully understand it. I have replayed every minute of it.”
Dearman said he took up the cause in part because he didn’t feel he initially did enough when he bought the Democrat in 1966.
Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman, came to Philadelphia for Dearman’s 2001 retirement party. “You gave to me and my family an understanding and warmth that we needed so desperately at a time when it seemed our wounds would never be healed,” she told Dearman then.