We suffered our own brand of terrorism then, with our own breed of men who, like today's terrorists, somehow concluded that God entrusted them with His plan and put them unilaterally in charge of His justice.
The young civil rights workers, in their early twenties, one black and two white, were in Mississippi for a black voter registration campaign. They were murdered by Killen's Klan crusaders. Chaney, the young black man, was beaten to death. The two white men, Goodman and Schwerner, were shot.
It took the FBI weeks to uncover the hidden bodies.
Ironically, as the jury was deliberating on the Killen case in Mississippi, a product of the black South of that time, now our Secretary of State, was delivering a major speech in Cairo, Egypt, articulating the Bush administration's vision for advancing freedom and democracy around the world.
In response to a question after the speech, Condoleeza Rice recalled a view espoused in the Birmingham, Ala., of her childhood, that blacks didn't really want or need the type of freedoms that whites enjoyed.
Recalling the violent and sordid past that defines African American history presents a particular challenge for black conservatism.
Conservatism is, after all, defined by conserving and preserving a past and a tradition. The African American experience is defined by escaping an unpleasant past and the struggle toward a better future. Of course, individuals have fond personal memories. But as a people, African Americans have no golden era that we long to recapture.
As Jefferson drafted the lofty language defining our national ideals in the Declaration of Independence, his black slaves tended his estate in Monticello. The U.S. Constitution, whose original intent conservatives want to recapture and preserve, originally intended for blacks to be property. I am unaware of any African Americans who fondly dream of recapturing this state of affairs.
So is conservatism an unnatural and perhaps even impossible home for blacks? Are black conservatives really, as black liberals regularly claim, simply sellouts to "The Man," the white establishment?
Quite the contrary.
Black conservatism, as all conservatism, embodies two vital elements. The first element is the ideals defining the movement. The second element is the maintenance of an ongoing historical perspective through which we may relate to those ideals.