Within American history, the year 1964 stands out to the nation as the year that was faced with the civil rights movement. Altogether, with various events that occurred over the course of the year, it caught the attention of many Americans and showed that progress was being made as well as there was hope that a country where all men are truly created equal could exist. The movie titled Mississippi Burning does an admirable job at revealing the internal battle that our nation was going through at this time and is an important film to be shown to young generations so that we are not doomed to repeat the events of our past. The film Mississippi Burning starts out by displaying how three Civil Rights Workers get tailed, caught, and murdered in the woods by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The movie reveals to viewers, through conversation, the clashing personalities of the two FBI agents, Agent Ward and Agent Anderson, who came to Mississippi to investigate the missing persons case of the three boys.
It becomes obvious over the course of the film that the two agents do not exactly see eye to eye on how to run the investigation, including tactics to get the information they need. In addition, unfortunately, the two agents find out pretty quickly that they are not welcome in the town, as it is essentially a community run by the KKK. Many of the businesses in the town, and even the police department are controlled by members of the Klan, making it a society full of racist hatred.
The two agents, after not being able to get very far on their own, call for reinforcements to aid with finding information for their investigation. A large amount of FBI agents as well as many members of the Navy Reserve are sent to help in the search for the three missing boys. As the two agents get closer and closer to finding the truth about the murders, they are constantly surrounded by the Klan’s leaders including Clayton Townley and Deputy Clinton Pell. Agent Anderson, being originally from the South knows Mississippians’ view of African-Americans and realizes that any white citizen would be scared to death at the sight of an African-American having the upper hand over them and wanting revenge on members of the Klan.
The two agents then decide to use this same tactic to get answers for their investigation, which ends up working. The final few scenes in the film reveal the sentences received by each of the Klan members who were involved in some way in the crime. Two of the most important characters in Mississippi Burning are the two FBI agents, Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward. The two agents are seen in the movie as having different approaches to solving their case. In the film, Ward is represented as one of the “brightest and finest” of the Kennedy administration. He is the one in charge of the missing persons investigation and values the law as well as is shown to work hard to uphold justice.
His character proves to be important to the plot because of his methods of getting information on the investigation. Ward also helps Anderson remain in line as a FBI agent, at least for the first half of the movie, by making him realize that he can not use some of the tactics that he might be accustomed to. At one point, about halfway through the movie, Ward reprimands Anderson for the intimidation tactics he used to get information from some towns-people and for talking to the deputy’s wife about the incident.
This reveals how Ward prevents legal action against the FBI by making sure the two of them do not use illegal tactics to get information they need. Rupert Anderson, however, represents almost the opposite of Ward. He is a former small town Mississippi sheriff who believes in more experienced means to investigate, since he knows how the law works and what people’s mentality is in the south. At first glance, Anderson seems like a “good ol’ Southern man” but he is revealed to be tougher than he looks when in one scene, Frank Bailey, a Klansman, grabs Anderson and threatens him that he and the staff of FBI are wasting their time investigating and that they need to leave unless they want more dead bodies. Anderson then reveals his tough side by grabbing him by the genitals and saying that they will not leave until the job is done. He is shown to be important in the film as a character because he uses his charm to help solve his investigations, but if his people skills do not work, he is not afraid to break the rules and use not exactly legal methods to get the job done.
At one point in the film, the mayor is kidnapped and taken to an abandoned shack in the country where it is revealed that a supposedly local black man was his kidnapper. The African American man threatens to castrate the mayor if he does not tell him who killed the three civil rights workers and what happened. The mayor decides to comply. These “off-the-record” methods allow him to be able to get more work on the investigation done in a shorter amount of time than doing things by protocol. Work done by these two FBI agents in the 1964 investigation proved to be crucial in the positive result of the civil rights movement. Another important character in the plot was Ray Stuckey, the town sheriff, in that he made the investigation harder for the FBI agents to solve by being hard to deal with. In this way he made the whole ordeal into a bigger deal that it could have been which brought more publicity to the event and thus more support from some people in the civil rights movement. In the film, the sheriff blames the problems of the town on the Civil Rights Movement as he thinks it is a hoax to make the town look bad.
The law that Sheriff Stuckey upholds in the community is why he is able to abuse the law in so many ways. He allowed others that work under him to do all the “dirty” work and therefore he could not get in trouble. Sheriff Stuckey is shown in the opening scenes of the film when Ward and Anderson arrive for the very first time. He enters chewing tobacco and refers to the missing persons issue as a “N***er Problem” which reveals that he is racist and has a strong disregard far the issues in his town.
There are multiple reasons as for why Civil Rights Movement films should be shown to students in high school. Most importantly, we are the future of society, and if we are taught early what happened in our past that led to negative events to unfold, it is possible that we will know better than past generations and avoid times like they had. Specifically, Mississippi Burning is important because it showed the harsh reality of violence that was happening in Southern states such as Mississippi. Once the Mississippi Burning case was made public, it was closely followed by journalists which revealed to many oblivious Americans the truth of what was happening in Southern states. After that, many, if not most, Americans began to understand the injustice in white supremacy, and even began to fight it, which gained more support for the Civil Rights Movement. If the Mississippi Burning had not occurred, KKK violence may not have been as publicized, and the Civil Rights Movement may not have received the boost that it needed to succeed.
In conclusion, the movie Mississippi Burning was a clear depiction of the event that occurred in the year 1964 in Neshoba County and is a successful text in keeping this history alive through the passing to future generations. High schoolers watching this in years to come will see the results of these unfortunate times in our past and hopefully benefit in learning what we can do to avoid a re-creation of this time.