The extraordinary act of leadership displayed by Philadelphia Mayor Rayburn Waddell, the Community Development Partnership and The Philadelphia Coalition in once and for all calling for justice in the 1964 civil rights murders here is monumental and profound.

By boldly embracing and publicly acknowledging Neshoba County’s dark past — albeit 40 years after the fact — we can declare with confidence that the healing of an old, old wound has begun.

And that’s evidenced by the mounting support for The Philadelphia Coalition, the 30-member, multi-racial citizens group that spurred the call for justice.

Telephone calls and e-mails keep pouring into this newspaper from people all over who, as children or teens, were profoundly impacted by the civil rights murders here and are eager to learn of this healing. They are overjoyed, frankly, and some of them with roots here have been in tears.

And there are the throngs in the media who are chasing this story, from The New York Times to independent film makers and authors.

Many outside the county express shock that such grass-roots leadership would emerge from a locale largely regarded as a former bastion of the Ku Klux Klan. And that should be affirmation — as if any were needed — that we indeed have an image problem.

The pronouncements demanding justice took courage and much soul-searching and was not easy because there are still a good number of people today in Neshoba County who believe the less said the better. But that sort of constipated thinking is vanishing, even in the last weeks as frank discussions have taken place for the first time among some.

The Philadelphia Coalition has spent the better part of the last two months immersed in what has been described by some as cathartic, or soul-cleansing, experiences as members have come to understand each other, the hurts and the fears, the guilt and the shame, as their mission evolved into a single-minded quest for justice and redemption.

Outside pressures have galvanized the coalition and strengthened the resolve among members, which can hopefully in some way be transferred to the rest of the community.

The dialogue that led to the call for justice on Wednesday began in 1989 with an apology to the families of the slain men during the 25th anniversary commemoration.

As for The Philadelphia Coalition, the 40th anniversary commemoration is just the beginning, the start, we believe, of a quantum shift in thinking.

We commend Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood for their fortitude and willingness to seek Justice Department help in prosecuting this case.

Hood has been personally interviewing potential witnesses, a testament that he’s genuinely committed to bringing justice.

This Attorney General can be trusted, and any whose hearts are heavy with guilt should step forward. If ever there were a time, it is now.