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Mississippi verdict greeted by a generation gap

Since 1989, authorities have reexamined 22 civil rights era murders and made 25 arrests.

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In some ways, the meaning of this week's manslaughter conviction in a high-profile 1964 case involving three murdered civil rights workers is distilled in the responses of two men in this small Mississippi logging community.

For Leroy Clemens, a local NAACP leader who pushed hard to have the case reopened, the trial's outcome is an important symbolic victory - helping the town and region step out from a cloud of infamy. "Today we have cause for hope," he said after the verdict.

But Jamar Hardy, a younger African-American, doesn't see what all the fuss is about. For him, the future doesn't hinge on the prosecution and conviction of the man alleged to have organized the infamous Freedom Summer killings. "That wouldn't happen today," says Mr. Hardy, finishing his shift at Domino's Pizza. "We are a different breed from them."

The different generational views speak volumes about this region's transformation. Just as the civil rights movement helped create a more tolerant climate in which Hardy grew up, so a new push for justice is helping many - white and black - close the book on sordid chapters of a region's history.

"The fact that the white South wants to pursue these [decades-old] cases indicates that many people want to get right on the racial question and repent for the history that these miscarriages of justice have represented," says Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "As a result, they are feeling an immense burden lifted off them."

Since 1989, authorities have reexamined 22 deaths from the civil rights era and made 25 arrests, leading to 16 convictions. Many believe the next case to wind up in court will be that of Emmett Till, who as a 14-year-old was tortured and killed in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting family in Money, Miss. Earlier this month, the FBI exhumed his body and performed an autopsy in hopes of bringing several indictments.


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