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The Past is Never Dead: The Trial of James Ford Seale and Mississippi's Struggle for Redemption ()

Delayed Justice A Salve For Mississippi's Wounds?

Oct 3, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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The ghosts of Mississippi die hard.

Forty-five years ago, two young black men disappeared on the outskirts of Homochitto National Park.

The bodies of Charles Moore and Henry Dee finally turned up, brutally mangled, in a tributary of the Mississippi River.

At the same time, the FBI sent agents flooding into the state — but not for this case. They were focused on the murders of three civil rights workers, an incident that would inspire the movie Mississippi Burning a quarter-century later.

Meanwhile, the investigation into deaths of Moore and Dee languished. The chief suspect, a reputed Klansman named James Ford Seale, was arrested but quickly released.

He lived as a free man until 2007. Then, 43 years after the crime, with no physical evidence and most witnesses dead or dying, Seale was convicted of killing the two young men.

Author Harry MacLean moved to Mississippi to chronicle that trial. It's the basis of his new book, The Past is Never Dead: The Trial of James Ford Seale and Mississippi's Struggle for Redemption.

MacLean tells Guy Raz that the trial is a perfect illustration of how Mississippi is still trying to come to grips with its troubled racial history.

A number of Mississippians, black and white, argued that Seale was too old and sick to be put on trial. Many others, though, made the case that trying him was a crucial part of helping the state put the era of Mississippi Burning behind it once and for all.

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