Sunday 21 August 2011

The Ghosts of Mississippi

On June 12, 1963, a Mississippi housewife is home with her three children when she hears a shot, runs to the door and sees her injured husband drag himself up the driveway 30 feet and collapse in a pool of blood.

This is a scene from Rob Reiner's movie "The Ghosts of Mississippi" which premiered in 1996.  It is based on the life of Black civil rights activist Medgar Evers who was the victim of a racist killing.  Ku Klux Klan member Byron de la Beckwith was arrested and tried for the murder in 1964 and again in 1965.  However, he was freed twice by an all-White jury and returned to his home in Tennessee. 

Medgar's widow, Myrlie, moved to California after the second trial and attempted to provide a safe home to raise her three children.  Although she left Mississippi, she continued to further Medgar's cause, working for the NAACP and later becoming its chairwoman. 

In the meantime, lawyer Bobbie DeLaughter, played by Alec Baldwin, managed to secure a new trial to attempt to convict Byron de la Beckwith, played by James Woods.  Although many of the witnesses who spoke at the first and second trial had since died, Mr. DeLaughter was able to find some surviving witnesses who were willing to talk.  Incredibly, he also found the murder weapon in his late father-in-law's house, knowing that judges used to collect trial evidence as souvenirs.  Equally important was the original trial manuscript which Myrlie guarded with her life.  Bobbie was able to establish a trust with Medgar's widow and eventually she gave him the manuscript.

In the movie, there is a disturbing scene in the men's  washroom where Mr. DeLaughter asks Mr. Beckwith how he could just shoot Medgar Evers the way a hunter would shoot a deer.  Beckwith's response is that a deer is one of God's creatures and he would never shoot a deer. 

With a passionate lawyer on the case, a new judge and a new jury, the State of Mississippi was able to secure a conviction against Byron de la Beckwith in 1994, over 30 years after the original crime.  As Bobbie DeLaughter said in his closing statement, "it's never too late to do the right thing".  The final scene in front of the courthouse when Myrlie Evers, played by Whoopi Goldberg, pumps her fist in the air victoriously after the conviction, is heartwarming.  Will the ghosts of Mississippi finally be laid to rest?

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