"Mississippi Burning," the new movie that depicts the murders of three civil rights workers 25 years ago, may never play in the small Mississippi farm town where the bloody episode took place.
"Some people have asked me to show it but I've also had church groups threaten to boycott me if I do," says Lula Ellis, the owner of Philadelphia's only movie theater. "I haven't made up my mind."Folks in Philadelphia, population 6,800, are ambivalent about having to relive one of the most sensational events of the civil rights era.
Even Cecil Price, the former Neshoba County sheriff's deputy who went to prison for his role in the 1964 slayings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, said he hasn't decided whether he will see the Orion Pictures film, scheduled to be released across the country next weekend.
"I'm trying to lead a different life now and I just wish all that stuff hadn't been dredged up again," said the 52-year-old Price, who served four years of a six-year sentence.
Philadelphia Mayor Charles McClain echoed those sentiments.
"I think most people know what happened here," McClain told a visiting reporter. "Why don't you all just let us alone?"
McClain, who operates a local funeral home, said many changes have taken place in Philadelphia during the past quarter century. He cited the county's integrated school system, the black city policemen and firemen, and the city's black alderman - there also are four whites on the City Council - as evidence that Philadelphia is not the same place it was when the murders occurred.
"People here don't understand why Philadelphia is being singled out. Govs. George Wallace and Ross Barnett, the whole region, was standing up to what was happening back then. There were all those busloads of Northerners coming down here, telling us what do to . . . "
But retired special agent Joseph Sullivan, who led the FBI investigation into the murders, has another view of the case.
"Neshoba was an incredibly closed and racist county," he said, when contacted at his Manhattan home. "The county's law enforcement officers knew what was happening, the blacks and Indians in the county were almost supine, and practically none of the whites in Philadelphia would cooperate with us in solving the case; we found that almost every adult white male in the county had connections with the Ku Klux Klan."
Sullivan said he recently had seen "Mississippi Burning" in New York.
"It's a good cowboys-and-Indians movie but bears little resemblance to what actually occurred," he said. "If anybody wants to know what really happened they should read Florence Mars' book."
The book, "Witness in Philadelphia," was published in 1977. The author, now 65, was one of the few Philadelphia residents who would cooperate with the FBI.
"It was clear something terrible was happening in Philadelphia," she said last week, while recalling the days when practically the entire county was involved in a conspiracy of silence.
Mars, a member of a prominent Neshoba County family, testified before the federal grand jury investigating the murders. She also spoke out against the Klan and urged local officials to acknowledge what had happened in Philadelphia.
As a result, the Klan staged a boycott of her stockyard that forced her out of business.