Just saw a re-run of the movie “Mississippi Burning”, the story is loosely based on the real-life murders of civil rights workers, white and black, in Mississippi in 1964. After the three are reported missing, two FBI agents are sent to investigate the incident in rural Jessup County, Mississippi (modeled after Neshoba County where the real murders took place).
The two FBI agents take completely different approaches: Agent Alan Ward (Dafoe), a young liberal northerner, takes a direct approach to the investigation; Agent Rupert Anderson (Hackman), a former Mississippi sheriff who understands the intricacies of race relations in the South, takes a more subtle tack. It is very hard for the two to work in the town, as the local sheriff’s office is linked to a major branch of the Ku Klux Klan, and the agents cannot talk to the local black community, due to their fear of Klan retaliation, gee sounds just like Marianna Fl in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.
‘Marianna Burning’ could be the title of a new movie that depicts FBI agents investigating the real time murder of juvenile inmates, black and white, at the State run Dozier prison in Marianna Fl during the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s seeking to breach the conspiracy of silence in the small Southern town where segregation divided black and white on the streets and in the prison with separate cemeteries for black and white inmates.
As one elderly lady told Robert Straley a white house boy: “If you talked about the Dozier boys and what was happening to them your barn could be burnt, your cattle poisoned or you might just pick up a stray bullet from a hunter’s rifle. That was the word back then and that is the word now.” I got this same story from three ladies that were all at least in their late seventies or eighties. Those that didn’t agree with the beatings weren’t going to the Police, not in the town of Marianna with a heavy KKK presence. One policeman stated: “This town is sewed up tight. You’re not going to find out anything here.”
Marianna Fl is a small southern town where the local police chief was elected after he pulled in a whopping 537 votes. Marianna’s Dale Cox knows more about the history of the Dozier School for boys than most, except for the fact that he was never an inmate there and has no first hand knowledge of what really happened behind the razor wire. At a press conference in March, Cox said findings by the University of South Florida researchers, which led State Attorney General Pam Bondi to request exhumations, were way off base. “Among what they found with the ground penetrating radar” he explained, “they found a total of 14 probably grave sites. In the cemetery. There are 31 crosses there we know there are more than 14 crosses there. Cox said the dig was unfounded and would further hurt the local economy and demean Marianna’s reputation.
Just what is Marianna’s reputation? Incidents include hanging a Negro from a tree in the Marianna Court House Square and leaving the body there for 24 hours. Elmore Bryant was born and raised in Marianna. He was the first black mayor. He was never sent to Dozier, but he was a teacher there for 11 years. He said the attitude at the school and in town was like a fraternity, no one ever telling the secrets. “Nobody said it, but the truth was, so went Dozier, so went the attitude of this town. This town, Marianna, in 1934, had one of the worst lynchings in the South. And that added to pretty much, whatever came in here,” said Bryant. Dale Landry of the NAACP’s Florida State Conference said he was hopeful when the FDLE began to investigate the Dozier cemetery in 2010, but it appears that they dropped the ball.