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Lovejoy Journalist-in-Residence: April 24, 2011 - April 28, 2011Investigative Reporter, The Clarion Ledger
Tales of Justice and Reconciliation in Mississippi: A reporter's journey into the Klan and unpunished killings from the civil rights era
Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond Building
April 25, 2011, 7:00 PM
Jerry Mitchell is an investigative reporter for The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, who convinced authorities to re-open 'cold cases' from the civil rights era. Inspired by the film Mississippi Burning, Mitchell's investigations have led to the conviction of several Klansmen, and he was portrayed in the film Ghosts of Mississippi about the murder of Medgar Evers and the belated effort to bring Byron de la Beckwith to justice. Mitchell is also a 2009 recipient of MacArthur Foundation genius grant and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Colby and honored with the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courage in journalism in 2006.
A Civil Rights investigative reporter for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, Jerry Mitchell’s reporting has helped solve murders and bring four Klansmen to justice. His stories have prompted the arrests of Bryon De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers; Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, for ordering the fatal firebombing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer in 1966; Bobby Cherry, for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls; Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murders of three Civil Rights activists (a story which was popularized by the movie Mississippi Burning).
“Mitchell,” said the late David Halberstam, “pursued these stories after most people believed they belonged to history, and not to journalism. But they did belong to journalism, because the truth had never been told and justice had never been done.”
A 2006 Lovejoy Award winner for his courageous reporting, Mitchell has received death threats from the Klan and several angry letters, including one that suggested he be “tarred, feathered and run out of the state of Mississippi.”
Mitchell has received more than 30 national awards for intrepid and investigative reporting. He has twice won the George Polk Award and in 2006, the Pulitzer Board named him a Pulitzer Prize finalist, praising him “for his relentless and masterly stories on the successful prosecution of a man accused of orchestrating the killing of three civil rights workers in 1964.” Recently, Mitchell received the Ralph McGill Medal for Courage for his work over the past two decades.
Mitchell continues to search for evidence in the cold cases. Four suspects connected to the murder of the three Civil Rights workers, including Olen Burrage who owned the property where the victims’ bodies were buried, remain unpunished.