“We thought he was the answer to our prayers,” Blackburn said.
A week and a half after McMillian’s body was found in the mud on an isolated stretch of levee outside Clarksdale, his death remains a mystery. It has roiled old suspicions and fears from Mississippi’s dark history of racial brutality, although both McMillian and the man charged with his murder are African American. McMillian was also gay, adding fire to demands by civil rights groups for the killing to be investigated as a hate crime. The FBI said this week that it is “monitoring” the investigation.
Hundreds of mourners are expected to attend McMillian’s funeral here Saturday, scheduled for 11 a.m. at Coahoma Community College. Hotels are full and florists have been working overtime delivering arrangements, but hovering closely are the questions surrounding McMillian’s death.
The Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department has charged Lawrence Reed, 22, in the crime. He told police that he killed McMillian and where to look for the body, according to two people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its early findings.
Reed’s family has yet to address publicly the allegations against him. The sheriff’s department has released almost no information on the case, adding to conspiracy theories and guessing over what exactly happened the night McMillian and Reed, who worked at Domino’s Pizza, were together.
Carter Womack, McMillian’s godfather and a fellow member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, said all the family wants is a thorough investigation. “If it was a passing hookup, something bad happened,” Womack said. “The question becomes, how could one person do all this?”
McMillian’s cause of death won’t be made public for another week, according to Coahoma County Medical Examiner Scotty Meredith, who said the autopsy is complete but toxicology results are pending.
In the wait for answers, the rest of the country tweets and speculates, posting grainy video of Nina Simone singing “Mississippi Goddam”:
Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.
Here in Clarksdale, the potency of the symbolism of McMillian’s murder is lost on no one, least of all sharecropper’s daughter Blackburn.
Blackburn adjusts her hearing aid against the noise. “To me, he was just Marco. He had it all mapped out for the next 50 years,” Blackburn said. The water bottles organizers planned to hand out at a campaign rally, labeled with his picture, are still in her house.