Interview with Hodding Carter III
QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

I WAS JUST GOING TO GO ON TO THE THREE SUMMER VOLUNTEERS MISSING IN AND LATER FOUND DEAD IN ‘64. WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE TO THOSE MURDERS IN THE STATE, ESPECIALLY THE RESPONSE TO THE MISSISSIPPI MODERATE?

Hodding Carter III:

All right, first response in the state was best articulated by the line, those boys are hiding out in Cuba. This is all a big plot to embarrass the state. Second one was, look they've just been spirited off, nothing's happened. Finally the bodies are found, and that begins to register, to make an impact. But you have to understand, it is a standard part of the old southern psyche, as indeed it is of the human psyche, that when you feel you're under siege, when you feel that you are beleaguered, you're willing to defend things that otherwise might seem indefensible. And at that point, there was a strong feeling among whites in Mississippi that they were under siege. That there was a concerted effort being made to break down their society. And so, that colored some of the reaction to what should have been clear and immediate moral outrage. Others were just simply afraid to speak. But moderates in relation to that event were quite clear. It was unconscionable. The perpetrators had to be found. They had to be convicted. The honor of the state demanded it. Because that kind of event always made it possible for moderates to speak out very vigorously, because you were then going to speak to questions of basic law and basic order. There is irony in fact, that getting the conservatives of Mississippi to issue simple statements in favor of law and order after the Ole Miss Riots, after the Medgar Evers assassination, after the death of the boys in Philadelphia, was almost impossible. The great conservative motto of later years, law and order, was not possible for conservatives to utter in that period. As indeed it ought to be remembered that to wear the American flag in Mississippi on your lapel, in the late fifties and early sixties, was to invite attack as a commie, as an integrationist, as a liberal. Ah, how the symbols change.