KKK killing sleuth brings past to life

31st July 2009 at 01:00
US teacher's video link to Doncaster secondary aids civil rights studies

A US high school teacher who helped to solve a set of historic Ku Klux Klan murders has been working with pupils in Doncaster to inspire them with interest in the past.

Barry Bradford and three of his students at Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, fought to re-open the case of three young civil rights activists who were brutally killed in 1964. The discoveries from their class project, which began in 2002, led the FBI to convict the murder plot's mastermind.

Mr Bradford recently gave a lesson to pupils at Balby Carr Community Sports and Science College in Doncaster via a video link-up.

The lesson was the idea of Michael McDonald, a newly qualified history teacher, who told his Year 9 pupils about the investigation as part of their studies on the American civil rights movement.

"They just got so hooked on the story and it seemed to capture their imagination in a way history normally doesn't," Mr McDonald said.

"Children seem to relate to civil-rights cases like this - perhaps because it didn't happen that long ago and that makes it even more shocking.

"They have been fascinated by the little details, such as the postcard one of the boys sent to his mother saying everything was fine. By the time it arrived, he was dead."

The three victims, James E Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, had been helping to register black voters during the "freedom summer" of 1964. They were kidnapped and lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, aided by local police.

The case inspired the 1988 film Mississippi Burning. But it had been unsolved for nearly 40 years when Mr Bradford decided to make a short video documentary for an inter-school competition to promote National History Day.

Mr Bradford and his pupils persuaded Edgar Ray Killen, mastermind of the murder plot, to give a recorded interview, which was then used as the basis for the prosecution case.

Mr Killen has now been convicted and the FBI is looking into re-opening other unsolved civil-rights murder cases.

Mr McDonald has a series of lessons planned to bring history to life. "I've tried to teach in a different way, not relying on textbooks," he said. "The school has been really supportive, although they didn't like my idea of dissecting a pig's head for the history of medicine."

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