When Mississippi Burned–and What Happened After–in Neshoba


If Andrew Breitbart’s recent sliming of Shirley Sherrod ultimately shows how far this country still has to go on matters of race, the documentary Neshoba shows how far we’ve come. Co-directed by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano, Neshoba surveys the lingering effects of, and decades-long pursuit of justice for, the 1964 murders of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Dickoff and Pagano trekked to Philadelphia, Mississippi (in Neshoba County), for the 40th anniversary of the murders to see how residents of the place where the killings occurred were faring, to see if racial attitudes had changed. The filmmakers lucked out: While they were in town, the preacher/KKK member/alleged mastermind behind the murders, Edgar Ray Killen, was finally charged with the murders and forced to stand trial, creating a firestorm of controversy. Though Neshoba is standard-issue in terms of craftsmanship, the tools used to tell the tale (newsreels, family photos, crime scene and autopsy photos) are masterfully employed. Within the first 15 minutes, Dickoff and Pagano milk your tear ducts (iconic newsreel footage of a young Ben Chaney weeping as he sings “We Shall Overcome” at his brother’s funeral has lost none of its power to devastate) and then use that emotion to fuel the rest of the film.