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Fred Baldwin/Wendy Watriss BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Ballad of Medgar Evers BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI. Directed by Rob Reiner. The fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes. The calendar is lying, when it reads the present time. Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of Phil Ochs, “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” ril ” he past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.” Willie Morris appropri ated that quotation from Intruder in the Dust as epigraph to North Toward Home, a memoir that, among much else, recounts a young Mississippian’s exploits in Texas. In 1960, at age twenty-five, Morris inherited from Ronnie Dugger editorship of The Texas Observer, at a salary of $110 a week. Later editors would not collect much more remuneration or recollect much more exhilaration: “I had the most earnest feelings that our little paper was somehow involved, however modestly, in the great flow of history on this continent, and that to understand a place like Texas through its dissenters and its young rebels was to understand something of an older, vanished America; yet I also wished to be rooted in my own anxious time, a time when a new generation of young Americans would, for a tragically brief and poignant period, wield power.” Though North Toward Home was published in 1967, Peggy DeLaughter, the wife of Byron de la Beckwith’ s prosecutor, is glimpsed reading it in bed in 1994. It is true that a good book never ages but also that Morris, that good book’s author, happens to be credited as consultant to Ghosts of Mississippi, in which this scene appears. Announcing at the outset that “this story is true,” this haunting movie is dedicated to Faulkner’ s spectral proposition that the dead are never past; they are not even dead. During the evening of June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers, the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson. He died in front of his wife Myrlie and their three children, a mere five months before JFK was gunned down in Dealey Plaza and at the very moment that Kennedy was on national TV proclaiming his commitment to civil rights. Evers was the first in a series of dynamic young leaders, including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, to be assassinated throughout the decade. Two prosecutions of a notorious racist named Byron de la Beckwith for the murder of Evers both ended in mistrials. Thirty years later, convinced that justice had not been served, a Hinds County assistant district attorney insisted on reopening the case and succeeded in gaining a belated conviction and life sentence for the unrepentant bigot Beckwith. Directed by Rob Reiner, Mississippi Ghosts might as aptly have been titled The Education of Bobby DeLaughter, so firmly does it focus on the arc of the prosecutor’s development from indifference through curiosity and indignation to virtuous obsession. When we first encounter DeLaughter SEPTEMBER 13, 1996 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER