Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi and former chairman of the National Republican Party, stands to distinguish himself as “the first governor in U.S. history to refuse to pardon a man he has publicly proclaimed as innocent." I could hardly believe my eyes as I read this tonight on The New York Times website. The report quotes Barbour’s spokesman, 'The governor hasn't pardoned anyone, whether they be alive or deceased.''
Trumped-up charges of selling $25.00 worth of stolen chicken feed landed Clyde Kennard in jail for seven years. The NYT story explained the only witness against Kennard in the chicken feed case recanted his testimony.
What lies beneath the chicken feed is the story of Clyde Kennard’s offense of trying to enter the University of Southern Mississippi in the late 50s.
So what lies beneath Haley Barbour’s thinking in this case?
The Governor of Mississippi, of all places, must be responsive to the calls of justice.
My experience on Wednesday, May 3 at the University of Memphis intensifies my concern for this matter. Jerry Mitchell, reporter for the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, spoke of his experiences in uncovering evidence leading to 20 convictions of Klansmen and others involved in civil rights era murders. I left inspired not simply because of the justice done in these cases, but in Mitchell’s unequivocal witness to the power, grace, and redemption of God in these affairs.
In government class today at the private Christian school where I teach in Memphis, I challenged my students to see themselves as able to work for justice and to be witness to the grace of God in any number of fields. I told them about Jerry Mitchell the journalist.
Two weeks ago we listened to voice of John Kamm who, while president of the Hong Kong Chamber of Congress, began speaking truth to power in China regarding oppression of religious persons. NPR reports that scores of political prisoners have been released.
Thursday we read about the Governor of Montana, Brian Schwietzer ending the “silence—and for some families, the shame” connected to the convictions of their parents and grandparents on charges of sedition during War War. He posthumously pardoned 75 men and women this week.
A journalist, a businessman, and a governor. All in secular jobs. All acting in the spirit of the prophets and of Christ.
I baited my students, “Why should politicians and others bother with these acts? Why not let the dead be dead?”
One 17 year-old boy suggested it would increase the legitimacy of the government if leaders took steps to right wrongs. Another young man said it could change generations of those families who might always be sad, silent, or cynical.
I mentioned hearing Jerry Mitchell’s voice on a Memphis radio interview Wednesday quoting Solomon, “When justice is done, it is a joy.”
From the mouth of babes-Justice creates legitimacy for the generations.
Justice, says the sage, fosters joy.
Barbour's distinction among America's governors and his alliance with Mississippi's governors-none of whom have given a posthumous pardon-begs the insight of children, the wisdom of Solomon.