Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Mississippi Burning

with 6 comments

Summer 1964. Hundreds of civil rights volunteers were in Mississippi for a voter registration drive, and three (two white men and a black) were in Neshoba County to investigate the burning of a black church that was to have been used as a base for registering blacks to vote. After briefly detained for speeding one night, the trio drove into the night and simply vanished.

Their bodies were later discovered, and their murder became a defining event of the civil rights era and the plot of the 1988 film ”Mississippi Burning.” The main suspect were the local sheriff, Lawrence A. Rainey (above right), his deputy Cecil Price (above left) and 16 other men, all of whom were allegedly members of the Ku Klux Klan. They were charged with violating the civil rights of the victims.

Sheriff Rainey and seven other men were acquitted. Deputy Price and six other defendants were convicted. The jury could not decide on the remaining defendants. A Klan leader and one other defendant got the stiffest sentences, 10 years in prison. Mr. Price, whom investigators suspected of delivering the victims to their killers, got a six-year term and served four and a half years.

During the trial, LIFE magazine devoted two pages to the above photo made by Paul Reed, which showed defendants hollering and mocking the court. Rainey was seen flamboyantly chewing his tobacco in the picture. Public outcry followed, and when his term as sheriff ended in 1967, Rainey was unable to find further work in law enforcement. He ended his life working as a security guard at supermarkets and malls, and blaming the FBI for preventing him from finding and keeping jobs.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 20, 2010 at 9:53 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Government thugs hiding behind a uniform.

    David Singhiser

    May 21, 2010 at 4:47 am

    • The government is the entity that pressed these charges against them. Definitely thugs, though.


      February 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm

  2. It’s hard to comprehend that this only happened in 1964 and segregation was rife in the South during this period – such recent history

    Vicki Day

    May 21, 2010 at 1:45 pm

  3. Sends chills down my spine. Their mocking expressions, the horrific disregard for human dignity and civil rights.


    May 22, 2010 at 6:43 pm

  4. It’s hard to accept that the merriment of those men was the result of their murderous hatred. And yes, such recent and horrific history.


    June 2, 2010 at 7:56 am

  5. R/H photo, the two guys on the right behind the sheriff; they look like the two characters in ‘Deliverence’ but older. The (un)natural outcome of a somewhat limited gene pool I guess.


    May 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm

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