TEXARKANA, Texas – Renowned investigative journalist, author and Texarkana native Jerry Mitchell returned to his alma mater, Texas High School, to teach students in a US government class.
Mitchell’s lecture painted a vivid and revealing portrait of his experiences while revealing some of the most unjust crimes committed by klan men during the civil rights era.
Known to some in the area as “Boo,” Mitchell is a 1977 Texas High School graduate who worked as an intern at the Texarkana Gazette before a long career as a journalist with the Arkansas Democrat and Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion- Ledger. In 2018, he founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.
In 1989, the film Mississippi Burning inspired him to reflect on old civil rights cases that many had long thought had turned cold.
His work has led to breakups and convictions in infamous 1960s cases such as the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, the firebombing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, the bombing bombing a church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young girls and the murder of three young civil rights activists.
Mitchell has received over 20 national awards, including a MacArthur Foundation Engineering Fellowship. He was recognized, along with three other journalists, for Kennedy Center honors in 1999 and was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
While much of the convictions caused by Mitchell’s job came decades after the crimes were committed, Mitchell said his mindset has always been that justice is better late than never.
“You know, sometimes people see these old men stand trial, some get arrested, and they say to me, ‘Jerry, why don’t you just leave these old men alone? Do you know what I’m telling them? They were young killers, they just got old, âMitchell said.
Mitchell spoke to students, some of whom are interested in journalism, about living fearlessly and persevering.
âI have received dozens of death threats and things like that,â he said. âAnd obviously, it’s annoying to be threatened, and you worry not only for yourself, but for your family. But it really brought an unexpected gift, and it’s the gift of living without fear. Without fear is not to live without fear To live without fear is to live beyond fear and live for something greater than yourself.
Jerry Mitchell, a renowned investigative journalist, author and native of Texarkana, speaks to students at Texas High of Hunter Davis’ US Government Double Credit Class about his experiences while uncovering some of the most unfair crimes in the world. era of civil rights.
Photo by Andrew Bell / Texarkana Gazette.
“And isn’t that what you see in the civil rights movement? You see people involved, and it wasn’t about them. It was about the cause.”
Mitchell’s mother Jane said that while her son’s tendency to rustle his feathers and expose himself at times caused concerns for his safety, she always knew he would be the type to forge his own right from the start. his youngest age.
âBoo always walked to a different drummer,â she said. âIf it was imperative that everyone wear a red shirt to school, he would show up with a blue shirt. And the criticism didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t trying to be obnoxious about it, he wasn’t. just didn’t want to do what everyone else is doing. “
Mitchell answered various questions from students and members of the public after his lecture and spoke briefly about his recent memoir, “Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era,” which highlights some important and remarkable crimes in recent history – cases that have upset the authorities for decades.
Former editor of Texas High’s “Tiger Times”, he said Texas High was a great place for someone in his field to start their career path.
In a closing statement, he reflected on the gravestone of James Earl Chaney, one of three civil rights activists killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964.
“I think of James Chaney’s gravestone and what it says. ‘There are those who are alive, but will never live. There are those who are dead, but will live forever,” “he said. he declares. âAt that point, I realized that every day we carve the words on our gravestone. What do you want your gravestone to say?â
(For those interested in Mitchell’s book, visit simonandschuster.com/books/Race-Against-Time/Jerry-Mitchell/9781451645149 online.)