Civil Rights Coverage Earns Journalist Prestigious Award

Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, will be recognized tonight at Columbia University for his effort to bring Klan killers to justice.

Named the 2005 winner of the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, he will receive the honor at a black tie celebration at the University's Low Library in New York City.

The $25,000 annual John Chancellor Award, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism, recognizes and rewards a journalist whose reporting over time shows courage, integrity, curiosity and intelligence and epitomizes the role of journalism in a free society.

For 16 years, Mitchell has worked to uncover evidence in the unsolved killings of civil rights activists. His reporting led to the conviction of four Ku Klux Klan members, beginning with the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Medger Evers.

Most recently, Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty in June for orchestrating the 1964 murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

Mitchell, speaking at the October 23 dedication of the new Civil Rights Memorial Center, described the Memorial, with its listing of 40 individuals who died during the Civil Rights Movement, as an "instrument of justice."

"What few people realize is the role played by the book, Free At Last, that accompanied this Memorial," he said. "The publication became a roadmap for me on my journey into reinvestigating these cases."

The Southern Poverty Law Center published Free At Last in 1989. The 104-page history serves as the textbook in the Teaching Tolerance teaching kit America's Civil Rights Movement.

At 46, Mitchell is the youngest recipient of the John Chancellor Award. Established in 1995, it honors the legacy of the television correspondent and longtime anchor for NBC News.