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Florence Mars, Civil Rights Author, Dies at 84

Florence Mars, Civil Rights Author, Dies at 84


      Florence Mars, whose book about the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers won praise from many but made her the target of the Ku Klux Klan, has died, a relative said Monday. She was 84.

      Mars suffered from Bell’s palsy and other ailments and died Sunday, said her godson, Mark Howell.

      Mars was one of the few residents of rural Philadelphia, Miss., to cooperate with FBI agents who investigated the disappearance of three civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer in 1964.

      Her book, Witness in Philadelphia, was published in 1977 and chronicled the turbulent struggle to register Black voters and the brutal slayings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.

      The men were detained on a traffic violation in 1964 after investigating the burning of a Black church. The Klan ambushed them when they were released from the Neshoba County Jail a few hours later. They were beaten and shot and their bodies buried in an earthen dam.

      The killings inspired the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning” and were the center of the highly publicized trial of a former Klan leader last year.

      â€śShe had guts enough to stand up against the Klan, which few people would do,” says longtime friend Gerald “Boots” Howell.

      Howell, 84, said the Klan set fire to Mars’ barn in the late 1960s after she publicly supported the civil rights movement. Howell and his wife, Millie, were among Mars’ few lifelong friends in a town that often ostracized Whites who supported the equal rights movement.

      Edgar Ray Killen, a former Klansman and part-time preacher, was convicted of manslaughter last year for orchestrating the slayings.

      His conviction on June 1 came exactly 41 years to the day that the men were killed. Killen, 81, was sentenced to 60 years and is in a central Mississippi prison.

      Killen had been tried along with several other men in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims’ civil rights, but the jury deadlocked. Seven others were convicted, but none served more than six years.

  • Associated Press

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