The film, Mississippi Burning (1989) can be classified as a very useful source for a historian studying the Civil Rights Movement, however, there are a few noticeable limitations that could prevent the historian from gaining a full understanding of the true culture in the Southern States of America. The film thoroughly examines the role of the Klu Klux Klan and touches upon the role of the media. Despite the useful information that is provided throughout the film, there are certain flaws that limit the historian from gaining knowledge on the true nature of Southern Americans.
In the 1950s the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement triggered the Klu Klux Klan organisations to ramp up their terrorisation of the African Americans. The most significant of these was the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan led by Robert Shelton. In the Deep South considerable amounts of pressure were put on blacks by the Klan not to vote. An example of this was in the state of Mississippi. By 1960, 42% of the population was black but only 2% were registered to vote.
Lynching was still employed as a method of terrorising the local black population. (Klu Klux Klan, http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAkkk. htm) The film ‘Mississippi Burning’ supports this information and displays some of the methods the Klu Klux Klan used to attack and threaten African Americans as well as those who supported integration between blacks and whites. The media played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. People throughout the world were able to view significant events such as riots, marches and certain court cases.
This meant that people became more aware of the extent of violence and injustice that was bestowed on African Americans, particularly in the small country towns in the Southern States. Actually viewing all this violence sparked even more rage amongst those who believed in the Civil Rights Movement. While the majority of White Americans still harbored racist views, many were horrified with the beatings, murders and other brutalities exposed by the media. Many northern whites did not understand what was happening in the South. The new surfacing of television delivered powerful images to the nation’s living room.
Print media was important, but it was television coverage that played a major role in the changing of attitude towards the Civil Rights Movement. The film ‘Mississippi Burning’ subtly but effectively touches upon the role of the media. Throughout the film, there are shots of cameramen filming significant events such as the search for the missing activists and the court case for their murder. This allowed viewers to get a sense of how much the media was used to in this era to help people around the world become aware of atrocities occurring in Southern America.
Despite the valuable information, that supported other sources, in the film Mississippi Burning, there were various inaccuracies that could potentially mislead a historian studying the Civil Rights Movement. To make the film more entertaining, it was clear that the producers of the movie were fairly biased towards the Southern Americans and portrayed them all as ‘redneck’ racists. In actual fact there were a number of residents in Mississippi who did accept the Civil Rights Movement and participated in marches and riots against those who refused to do so.
Another inaccuracy in the film was the way the detectives discovered Deputy Pell was guilty of participating in the murders of the Civil Rights Activists. In the film, Agent Anderson becomes relatively close with Mrs. Pell, Deputy Pell’s wife. He eventually manages to milk information out of her. In reality, Klu Klux Klan member, James Jordon, confessed to the FBI agents that he witnessed the murders and agreed to co-operate with the investigation.
Mississippi Burning is in many ways a useful secondary source for a historian studying the Civil Rights movement. The Klu Klux Klan were heavily acknowledged in the film and their methods of terrorising African Americans were exceptionally realistic, supporting other sources about Southern American culture. The media was also touched upon throughout the film, providing evidence that the media played a large role in the acceptance of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the small inaccuracies in the film to create a more entertaining storyline for viewers, the benefits of the information provided, outweigh the flaws.