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New memoir tells how justice prevailed in civil rights era murders

Faith inspired Jerry Mitchell, a Harding University graduate and longtime member of a Church of Christ in Mississippi.

‘To the One who loves justice.”

That’s the simple dedication at the start of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell’s long-awaited memoir, “Race Against Time,” which hits bookstores Tuesday.

It reflects the deep Christian faith of the veteran Mississippi journalist, whose stories have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars.

“God loves justice,” Mitchell, 60, told me in a telephone interview.

Mitchell, a 1982 journalism graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., worked for The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., for 33 years. He left in 2018 to found the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit watchdog news organization.

Although Mitchell’s book is written in first person, he stressed that it’s not about him. (Nonetheless, at least one reviewer suggests that readers might conclude, rightly, that he is a “hero.”)

“It’s really about these families, about the journey to justice and what all took place,” Mitchell said. “To me, the larger story is what’s important.”

What is that larger story?

Bestselling author John Grisham put it this way in endorsing the book, published by Simon & Schuster: “For almost two decades, (Mitchell) doggedly pursued the Klansmen responsible for some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement. This book is his amazing story. Thanks to him, and to courageous prosecutors, witnesses, and FBI agents, justice finally prevailed.”

That justice included the June 21, 2005, conviction of reputed Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen in the “Mississippi Burning” killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. The verdict was returned on the 41st anniversary of the slayings, which occurred June 21, 1964.

Only a God who loves justice could have arranged that timing, Mitchell told me in a 2005 interview.

“It’s about how we treat one another, how we treat the least of these. So, I think my faith and what I do as a profession go hand in hand.”

“God’s timing is not man’s timing; it never is,” said the journalist, a longtime member of the Skyway Hills Church of Christ in Pearl, Miss.

Back then, he had taped Jeremiah 32:27 to his computer: “I am the Lord the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

In our more recent discussion, Mitchell emphasized that justice is about more than what happens in a courtroom.

“It’s about how we treat one another, how we treat the least of these,” he said, a reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25. “So, I think my faith and what I do as a profession go hand in hand.”

Les Ferguson Jr., preaching minister for the Oxford Church of Christ in Mississippi, counts Mitchell as a friend whose advice he values and company he enjoys.

Related: Review: Race Against Time

Despite that personal connection, Ferguson said he wasn’t ready for the “visceral punch” he experienced when reading Mitchell’s book.

“The history Jerry writes about is real, compelling and extraordinarily painful,” Ferguson said. “But it is a history that needs to be revisited time and time again.” (Read Ferguson’s full review of “Race Against Time.”)

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

“Weekend Plug-in,”  featuring analysis, insights and top headlines from the world of faith, is produced in partnership with Religion Unplugged.

Filed under: civil rights era Inside Story Jerry Mitchell Ku Klux Klan Mississippi Mississippi Burning National Race Against Time Top Stories Weekend Plug-In

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