IN MISSISSIPPI, A STEP TOWARD JUSTICE

In the notorious case of three civil-rights workers who were killed in 1964 by alleged Ku Klux Klan members in Philadelphia, Miss., justice has been infuriatingly slow. But last week prosecutors finally indicted Edgar Ray Killen, 79, for murder. Killen, they say, orchestrated the deaths of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, who were registering black voters as part of the "Freedom Summer" and whose story was dramatized in the film "Mississippi Burning." The ugliness of the era lingers still. After Killen's arraignment, where he pleaded not guilty, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of the courthouse, and Killen's brother scuffled with a TV cameraman. "Get all of your shots now," the brother reportedly said. "We're going to make sure you're not around for his funeral."

The Philadelphia case joins a stream of others that Southern prosecutors have successfully revived in recent years. In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of murdering civil-rights activist Medgar Evers, and four years later, Sam Bowers--former imperial wizard of the KKK--was convicted of ordering the killing of Vernon Dahmer. Killen eluded that fate when he was acquitted in a 1967 trial that resulted in convictions for seven others on civil-rights charges. But in 1998, Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.--a paper that once routinely tailored its coverage to the dictates of the segregationist establishment--published excerpts of a secret interview with Bowers. Alluding to Killen's trial, Bowers said he was "quite delighted" to "have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man." Soon thereafter, prosecutors reopened the file. "All of these cases are painful," says Mitchell. But Killen's indictment "says a lot about how far Mississippi has come."