The Film Mississippi Burning

A graphic example of the physical side of racism is the song by Billy Holiday, "Strange Fruit". It describes a lynching and juxtaposes "the pastoral scene of the gallant South" and a sick mental picture of a lynched and rotting Negro. Although this is only a song it is based on factual things that happened, showing just how brutal the white people could be. A short story written by Martha Gelhorn "Justice at Night" written around the time of the depression and reputed to be true, tells of an elderly white woman's accusation that her black slave attempted to rape her.

The black man is lynched despite protests from a witnessing Northern traveler who is silenced with the words "You've gotta take a white woman's word any time before you take a nigger's, helluva place it'd be if you said white folks lied and niggers told the truth". The story also describes the obvious pleasure and enjoyment the Share Cropper Whites get from watching the lynching, and the reluctance the Officials show, as if they were attending a tedious official dinner.

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Another example is in the film Mississippi Burning, when because the FBI Agents start to question the blacks, the Ku Klux Klan surround a full black church during a service. When the service ends and the black people start to emerge, the Klan attack them, beat them up and even kill some of them. Institutional. Segregation is a form of racism. In the film Mississippi Burning the black civil rights activist is not allowed to be buried in the same graveyard as his white friends.

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Again in the book Roll of Thunder the Logans have to set up their stall in the very back of Strawberry Town market.

When Cassie, the narrator, tries to persuade Big Ma to move the wagon forward near the other farmers Big Ma replies; "But them's white folks' wagon Cassie', and although she didn't know it, that explained everything This regime of terror had not only the direct effects of the violence, but it had a great psychological effect. In the four different texts there are two examples of this: Firstly in the Book Roll of Thunder, when Cassie rebels against the offensive words printed in her book Mrs. Crocker, their teacher just replies, "Well that's what you are, now go and sit down".

This shows that she is totally brainwashed by the white people that Cassie, herself, and all black people are inferior. In the film Mississippi burning, when Agent Anderson questions Deputy Pell's wife, a white woman, she replies; "Hatred isn't something yar born with, it gets taught. At school they said segregation's in the bible, Genesis 9 verse 27. At seven years age you get it told enough times you believe it, you live it, you breath it, and you marry it". (Deputy Pell is a KKK member). Here she is explaining her life, and how all her elders have force fed her with lies and rubbish to an extent that she can recite it completely.

Another example of psychological racism is when Mr. Simms in Chapter 5, Roll of Thunder, apprehends Cassie. She is thrown into the road and made to apologise to Mr. Simms' daughter Lillian Jean. He makes her call Lillian Jean "Miss Lillian Jean, and although she has no cuts or bruises she is deeply hurt by this. When she gets home and Big Ma says that she isn't hurt, Uncle Hammer replies; "She aint hurt? You look into her eyes and tell me she aint hurt! " The violent effects of racism are the terror that the blacks had of the whites.

In Mississippi Burning, when Anderson and Ward go to interview a woman whose husband had been burnt, she answers none of their questions except for "Yes, Sir" or "No, Sir". After her son says "Why don't you just leave us alone, then maybe they'll leave us alone? " the FBI (except Anderson) begin to realise that it is their investigation that is causing an upsurge in trouble for the black people.. Even though blacks were living in terror there was a surprisingly large amount of resistance. In the book Roll of Thunder there is a whole list. In chapter three Stacey gets fed up with diving for the hedge and hatches a plan.

He, Little Man, Cassie and Christopher John make their way to the road during their lunch hour. Armed with shovels, stolen from the school shed, they dig a hole in the middle of the road. When all is done they return to school. That night it rains, and instead of there being just a pot hole in the road, there is a gaping chasm which is flooded with water. As it is flooded the bus just thinks that it is a puddle and charges through it, breaking an axle. The Logan children watch with glee as the white children have to walk to school. Cassie tells us;

" By the time most of the students managed to get to the other side of the ditch, their clothes were dripping with the weight of the muddy water. No longer laughing, they moved spiritlessly toward their homes while a disgruntled Mr. Grimes leaned moodily against the raised end of the bus. Oh, how sweet was well-maneuvered revenge! With that thought in mind, we quietly eased away and picked our way through the dense forest toward home. After Cassie's incident with Lillian Jean in chapter Five, she wants revenge. Therefore she "sucks up" to her for a couple of weeks.

Then, one day, she takes Lillian Jean to a secluded glade in a nearby coppice, beats her up and forces her to apologise, for herself and her father. She doesn't punch her in the face but in the stomach, so as not to leave bruises. The fact that it was a little black girl, three years her junior, who beat her up meant that Lillian Jean could not go and tell her father, she was too proud. Cassie says "Besides, if anybody ever did find our 'bout this fight, you'd be laughed clear up to Jackson. You here going on thirteen, getting beat up by a nine-year-old"

At the end of the story, when the Night Riders (KKK) try to lynch TJ, instead of going and confronting them Logan sets fire to his own crops to distract the mob. He lights a fire down wind of Harlan Granger's land and house and looses half of his cotton. Whilst they are fighting the fire the whites and blacks work together under the direction of the black Logan Family. Cassie says "I recognized Mr. Lanier by his floppy blue hat working side by side with Mr. Simms, each oblivious of the other, and Papa near the slope waving orders to two of the townsmen".

In Roll of Thunder two sympathetic whites, Jeremy Simms and Mr. W. Jamison both resist. Jeremy by not going on the white children's bus and Mr. Jamison by paying to boycott the Wallace Store. There are also a couple of very funny incidents of resistance to racism. In Chapter 10 of Roll of Thunder, Caleb Wallace confronts Mr. Morrison on a single-track road. Mr. Morrison asks Wallace if he could move his truck, he says "No! " and so Mr. Morrison gets out of the mule cart and picks the truck up, moves it into the hedge and continues down the road. "Mr. Morrison circled the truck, studying it closely.

Then he returned to its front and, bending at the knees with his back against the grill, he positioned his large hands beneath the bumper. Slowly, his muscles flexing tightly against his thin shirt and the sweat popping off his skin like oil on water, he lifted the truck in one fluid, powerful motion until the front was several inches off the ground and slowly walked it to the left of the road, where he set it downs as gently as a sleeping child. Then he moved to the rear of the truck and repeated the feat. " In Mississippi Burning the FBI bring in a black interrogator.

He kidnaps the white Mayor and questions him in a way that would have terrified the white man but must have brought a great deal of laughter to the black people who knew of the happening. The interrogator tells the Mayor the story of how a black teenager was tortured, threatening to re-enact the mistreatment by taking him to a similar shack and giving graphic detail of a castration with a razor blade. In conclusion it can be seen that the whites needed racism because they were poor. Being poor meant that they were at the bottom of the hierarchy and were social no-bodies.

The racism comes from the fact that the poverty stricken whites wanted to feel greater than somebody, so they picked on the only people lover then them; the blacks. This grew into the idea of white supremacy, and it restored a lot of what was before the wars. This grew into racial hatred and the Ku Klux Klan. The worst racists were poor share cropper whites, the better educated whites, business men or religious figures, like Wade Jameson who is an Attorney at Law in Roll of Thunder have no need for the hatred, so they are not racist.

Agent Anderson in the Film Mississippi Burning gives a story illustrating this attitude. When he was a boy he asked his father why a black man had a mule and they did not. His father's reaction was to poison the mule so they were equal and remarked to his son "If you aint better than a nigger son, who are you better than? " Agent Anderson goes on to say of his father "But he died before he realised that it was poverty that was killing him".

Updated: May 19, 2021
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The Film Mississippi Burning. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Film Mississippi Burning essay
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