September 26, 2005

Start: Birmingham
Philadelphia, Mississippi
Miles: 228 miles
Route taken: Interstate 20 west through Tuscaloosa to Route 17 north to Route 14 west to Route 45 south to Route 21 west, exit at Philadelphia.


        There were still some clouds in the sky when I left in the morning, but they didn’t seem to threatening so I packed up the bike and headed northwest towards Mississippi.

        The clouds actually provided some refuge from the sun and that was welcomed since it was going to be in the 90s for most of the day.

        I spent some time on the interstate so I could reach this back road I was looking for and finally found it after an hour or so of driving.  

        It is Highway 17 and it was to connect with Highway 16 that crosses into Mississippi. The only problem was Highway 16 doesn’t connect. I had to go north about 30 miles and get on Highway 14 and then drop down Highway 45 to Highway 21 to get where I wanted to go.

        The place I was so interested in seeing was Philadelphia, Mississippi. That is the site of where three civil right workers were killed in 1964.

        A few months ago the Neshoba County tried a man who was connected to the killings. Now 80 years old, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

        It was payback for what happened 40 years ago and it really did not serve any justice. The three men are still dead and Killen, confined to a wheelchair, will watch his life end in another location.

        What struck me while I was watching news reports at the trial was a local preacher who was repeating several times how the town is not like that anymore.

        It was almost like he was trying to convince himself, in addition to the reporters he was talking to.

        Understandably there are no plaques in the city marking the event. It is a piece of history they would rather forget and I don’t really blame them.

The downtown area is a shell, there is little there. There was no restaurant, so I went down the street to look for a place to eat.

        There was not much to choose from. A Mexican place and some chain restaurants. I settled for a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

        Inside was a mixture of blacks and whites eating and talking. An elderly black woman approached the counter to order and the white girl treated her with courtesy and respect.

        It was that way as I walked around other places in the town. I saw a white man open a door for a black woman and a black and white teenager walking down the street talking and laughing.

        My time there was brief, and I know it can’t be concrete proof, but I didn’t see any signs of the old south.

        Down the road from Philadelphia, not far from where the three men’s bodies were buried are two casinos.

        They are monstrous structures. One is called Silverstar and the other is Golden Moon. Both have hotels attached to them and are part of the Pearl River Resort.

        It looked out of place, but it might keep alive a dying town, but more importantly, it may replace a town’s reputation it has tried to shed for 40 years.