Barrett planned fair booth in support of alleged murderer of civil rights workers
Posted: January 15, 2005
In another clever publicity gambit, Richard Barrett announced that he would sponsor a booth at the annual Mississippi State Fair on October 16-17, 2004. His attraction, Edgar Ray Killen, was a former Klan leader and the key suspect in the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964. Killen had been acquitted years before by a hung jury, but Mississippi officials were again investigating and there was speculation that the case might be reopened. Barrett planned to hold a petition drive at the fair supporting Killen.
Fair authorities responded to Barrett's plans by issuing a directive "barring any racial exhibits"; Barrett argued that the provision violated the First Amendment and succeeded in having it struck down. He was also able to win a First Amendment decision striking down the $500,000 bond the fair required for vendors leasing booths.
Shortly before the fair began, however, Killen announced that he would not appear. Barrett cancelled the booth, expressing surprise. "He absolutely committed to me," he said of Killen.
Killen's wife maintained that her husband "has nothing to do with the booth." She added, "That is Richard Barrett's doing. Richard Barrett wanted publicity and he got plenty."
While Barrett's non-appearance cost a planned counter-petition effort some of its urgency, local civil rights demonstrators were able to gather 2,000 signatures supporting prosecution of the 1964 killings.
On January 7, 2005, Killen was arrested by state authorities on three charges of murder. The trial is set for March.