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Brother Of Slain Rights Worker Blasts Movie

January 18, 1989

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio (AP) _ A brother of one of three voting rights workers killed in Mississippi in 1964 is unhappy with the re-enactment of the slayings in the film ″Mississippi Burning.″

″The movie is terribly dishonest and very racist,″ said Stephen Schwerner, whose brother Michael was one of the victims. ″It terribly distorts the realities of 1964.″

The executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People agreed. ″Mississippi Burning″ rewrites history and ″reeks with dishonesty, deception and fraud,″ Benjamin Hooks said in a statement issued Wednesday from NAACP headquarters in Baltimore.

″Blacks in the film are portrayed as cowed, submissive and blank-faced. They are used as a backdrop when in reality they were the principals. This is a gross libel on the many black Mississippians who, even knowing they could be murdered with impunity and nothing would ever be done, still sought time and time again the right to vote,″ Hooks said.

Schwerner, 51, dean of students at Antioch College in this southwest Ohio community, said Tuesday he is less concerned about the historical accuracy of the movie than he is about its depictions of blacks and federal officials.

He said the movie portrays blacks as passive spectators in the civil rights movement in the South and the FBI as a champion of civil rights.

″In general, the FBI was an enemy of the civil rights movement,″ said Schwerner, who was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality and active in civil rights demonstrations in New York City and during his college days in Yellow Springs.

″They had to be dragged into the case kicking and screaming by Lyndon Johnson, and only then because two of the victims were white,″ Schwerner said.

Hooks said it was unconscionable to depict the FBI as the good guys.

″Under J. Edgar Hoover, who despised blacks and despised most expecially Dr. Martin Luther King, the FBI was not a friend of blacks, but an enemy who spied on the movement and was not above using its own bag of dirty tricks.

Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney disappeared in Neshoba County, Miss., after they were arrested and jailed briefly for speeding on June 21, 1964, while they were trying to gather information on a church bombing. Their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam about two months later.

Seven people, including a deputy sheriff, were convicted of conspiracy charges in connection with the slayings.

The movie’s director, Alan Parker, has emphasized that ″Mississippi Burning″ is fiction. But Schwerner said so many details of the film are factual - even down to the Ku Klux Klan nickname for his brother, ″Goatee″ - that the distinction between fact and fiction is intentionally blurred. And that makes the larger distortions that much more disturbing, he said.

″There are black kids and white kids who are going to see that movie and will walk out believing that the FBI was the moving force behind the civil rights movement and behind the destruction of the KKK, and that’s just grossly dishonest,″ Schwerner said. ″It’s like reading in some history books that all blacks were perfectly happy on slave plantations.″

The FBI secretly tapped Schwerner’s parents’ phone following his brother’s disappearance at the age of 24, he said.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Schwerner recently obtained a copy of a letter from Hoover to Attorney General Robert Kennedy requesting the wiretap, Schwerner said. Hoover suspected the disappearances may have been a hoax and publicity stunt, he said.

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