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Slain civil rights workers found


The remains of three civil rights workers whose disappearance on June 21 garnered national attention are found buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, had traveled to heavily segregated Mississippi in 1964 to help organize civil rights efforts on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The third man, James Chaney, was a local African American man who had joined CORE in 1963. The disappearance of the three young men led to a massive FBI investigation that was code-named MIBURN, for “Mississippi Burning.”

Michael Schwerner, who arrived in Mississippi as a CORE field worker in January 1964, aroused the animosity of white supremacists after he organized a successful black boycott of a variety store in the city of Meridian and led voting registration efforts for African Americans. In May, Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, sent word that the 24-year-old Schwerner, nicknamed “Goatee” and “Jew-Boy” by the KKK, was to be eliminated. On the evening of June 16, two dozen armed Klansmen descended on Mt. Zion Methodist Church, an African American church in Neshoba County that Schwerner had arranged to use as a “Freedom School.” Schwerner was not there at the time, but the Klansmen beat several African Americans present and then torched the church.

On June 20, Schwerner returned from a civil rights training session in Ohio with 21-year-old James Chaney and 20-year-old Andrew Goodman, a new recruit to CORE. The next day—June 21—the three went to investigate the burning of the church in Neshoba. While attempting to drive back to Meridian, they were stopped by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price just inside the city limits of Philadelphia, the county seat. Price, a member of the KKK who had been looking out for Schwerner or other civil rights workers, threw them in the Neshoba County jail, allegedly under suspicion for church arson.

After seven hours in jail, during which the men were not allowed to make a phone call, Price released them on bail. After escorting them out of town, the deputy returned to Philadelphia to drop off an accompanying Philadelphia police officer. As soon as he was alone, he raced down the highway in pursuit of the three civil rights workers. He caught the men just inside county limits and loaded them into his car. Two other cars pulled up filled with Klansmen who had been alerted by Price of the capture of the CORE workers, and the three cars drove down an unmarked dirt road called Rock Cut Road. Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were shot to death and their bodies buried in an earthen dam a few miles from the Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

The next day, the FBI began an investigation into the disappearance of the civil rights workers. On June 23, the case drew national headlines, and federal agents found the workers’ burned station wagon. Under pressure from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the FBI escalated the investigation, which eventually involved more than 200 FBI agents and scores of federal troops who combed the woods and swamps looking for the bodies. The incident provided the final impetus needed for the 1964 Civil Rights Act to pass Congress on July 2, and eight days later FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover came to Mississippi to open a new Bureau office. Eventually, Delmar Dennis, a Klansman and one of the participants in the murders, was paid $30,000 and offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for information. On August 4, the remains of the three young men were found. The culprits were identified, but the state of Mississippi made no arrests.

Finally, on December 4, nineteen men, including Deputy Price, were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney (charging the suspects with civil rights violations was the only way to give the federal government jurisdiction in the case). After nearly three years of legal wrangling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately defended the indictments, the men went on trial in Jackson, Mississippi. The trial was presided over by an ardent segregationist, U.S. District Judge William Cox, but under pressure from federal authorities and fearing impeachment, he took the case seriously. On October 27, 1967, an all-white jury found seven of the men guilty, including Price and KKK Imperial Wizard Bowers. Nine were acquitted, and the jury deadlocked on three others. The mixed verdict was hailed as a major civil rights victory, as no one in Mississippi had ever before been convicted for actions taken against a civil rights worker.

In December, Judge Cox sentenced the men to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years. After sentencing, he said, “They killed one n*****, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them what I thought they deserved.” None of the convicted men served more than six years behind bars.

On June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the three murders, Edgar Ray Killen, was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter. At eighty years of age and best known as an outspoken white supremacist and part-time Baptist minister, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

READ MORE: Civil Rights Movement Timeline


Viola Liuzzo

Viola Fauver Liuzzo (née Gregg April 11, 1925 – March 25, 1965) was an American housewife and civil rights activist. In March 1965, Liuzzo heeded the call of Martin Luther King Jr. and traveled from Detroit, Michigan, to Selma, Alabama, in the wake of the Bloody Sunday attempt at marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Liuzzo participated in the successful Selma to Montgomery marches and helped with coordination and logistics. At the age of 39, while driving back from a trip shuttling fellow activists to the Montgomery airport, she was fatally hit by shots fired from a pursuing car containing Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members Collie Wilkins, William Eaton, Eugene Thomas, and Gary Thomas Rowe, the latter of whom was actually an undercover informant working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). [1] [2]

Rowe testified that Wilkins had fired two shots into Liuzzo on the order of Thomas, [3] and was placed in the witness protection program by the FBI. [4] In an effort to deflect attention from having employed Rowe as an informant, the FBI produced disinformation [5] [6] for politicians and the press, stating that Liuzzo was a member of the Communist Party, heroin addict, [7] and had abandoned her children to have sexual relationships with African-Americans involved in the Civil Rights Movement. [8] Liuzzo's involvement in the civil rights movement was scrutinized and she was condemned by various racist organizations. In 1983, the Liuzzo family filed a lawsuit against the FBI after learning about the FBI's activities, but the suit was dismissed.

In addition to other honors, Liuzzo's name is today inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, created by Maya Lin.


Martin Luther King, Jr., and Memphis Sanitation Workers

The name of Martin Luther King, Jr., is intertwined with the history of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. The Montgomery bus boycott, the freedom rides, the Birmingham campaign, the March on Washington, the Selma march, the Chicago campaign, and the Memphis boycott are some of the more noteworthy battlefields where King and his followers--numerous in numbers, humble and great in name-- fought for the equal rights and equal justice that the United States Constitution ensures for all its citizens. King, building on the tradition of civil disobedience and passive resistance earlier expressed by Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Gandhi, waged a war of nonviolent direct action against opposing forces of racism and prejudice that were embodied in the persons of local police, mayors, governors, angry citizens, and night riders of the Ku Klux Klan. The great legal milestones achieved by this movement were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the later 1960s, the targets of King's activism were less often the legal and political obstacles to the exercise of civil rights by blacks, and more often the underlying poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and blocked avenues of economic opportunity confronting black Americans. Despite increasing militancy in the movement for black power, King steadfastly adhered to the principles of nonviolence that had been the foundation of his career. Those principles were put to a severe test in his support of a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. This was King's final campaign before his death.

During a heavy rainstorm in Memphis on February 1, 1968, two black sanitation workers had been crushed to death when the compactor mechanism of the trash truck was accidentally triggered. On the same day in a separate incident also related to the inclement weather, 22 black sewer workers had been sent home without pay while their white supervisors were retained for the day with pay. About two weeks later, on February 12, more than 1,100 of a possible 1,300 black sanitation workers began a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. Mayor Henry Loeb, unsympathetic to most of the workers' demands, was especially opposed to the union. Black and white civic groups in Memphis tried to resolve the conflict, but the mayor held fast to his position.

As the strike lengthened, support for the strikers within the black community of Memphis grew. Organizations such as COME (Community on the Move for Equality) established food and clothing banks in churches, took up collections for strikers to meet rent and mortgages, and recruited marchers for frequent demonstrations. King's participation in forming a city-wide boycott to support the striking workers was invited by the Reverend James Lawson, pastor of the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis and an adviser to the strikers. Lawson was a seasoned veteran of the civil rights movement and an experienced trainer of activists in the philosophy and methods of nonviolent resistance.

At that time King was involved in planning with other civil rights workers the Poor People's Campaign for economic opportunity and equality. He was also zigzagging by airplane through the eastern United States meeting speaking engagements and attending important social events as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Nevertheless, King agreed to lend his support to the sanitation workers, spoke at a rally in Memphis March 18, and promised to lead the large march and work stoppage planned for later in the month.

Unfortunately the demonstration on March 28 turned sour when a group of rowdy students at the tail end of the long parade of demonstrators used the signs they carried to break windows of businesses. Looting ensued. The march was halted, the demonstrators dispersed, and King was safely escorted from the scene. About 60 people had been injured, and one young man, a looter, was killed. This episode prompted the city of Memphis to bring a formal complaint in the District Court against King, Hosea Williams, James Bevel, James Orange, Ralph Abernathy, and Bernard Lee, King's associates in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The outbreak of violence deeply distressed King. In the next few days he and fellow SCLC leaders negotiated with the disagreeing factions in Memphis. When assured of their unity and commitment to nonviolence, King came back for another march, at first scheduled for April 5. In the meantime, U.S. District Court Judge Bailey Brown granted the city of Memphis a temporary restraining order against King and his associates. But the SCLC's planning and training for a peaceful demonstration had intensified. Lawson and Andrew Young, representing the SCLC, met with the judge April 4 and worked out a broad agreement for the march to proceed April 8. The details of the agreement would be put into place the next day, April 5.

This was the message that Young conveyed to King as they were getting ready to go out to dinner. Moments later, on that evening of April 4, 1968, as King stepped out of his motel room to join his colleagues for dinner, he was assassinated.

Other Resources

Books

Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Branch, Taylor. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Carson, Clayborne, et al., eds. The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954-1990. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Fairclough, Adam. Martin Luther King, Jr. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.

Garrow, David. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986.

Halberstam, David. The Children. New York: Random House, 1998.

Hampton, Henry, and Steve Fayer. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson. New York: Warner Books, 1998.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James Washington. New York: HarperCollins, 1986.

Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

Videos and Software

Eyes on the Prize: A History of the Civil Rights Movement (12 one-hour videotapes). ABC Laserdisc.

Encarta Africana. Microsoft CD-ROM.

Web Sites

The Web site of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Project at Stanford University ( http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/) includes links to biography, articles, chronology, and reference sources about King. This site also has links to key King documents.

Civil Rights Museum has an Interactive Tour link at http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/gallery/movement.asp that gives a survey of civil rights for African Americans from the colonial period to the present.

The Documents

[Defendants'] Exhibit 1
City of Memphis v. Martin Luther King, Jr., [et al.]
1968

Click to Enlarge

National Archives and Records Administration
Records of the United States District Court
Western District of Tennessee,
Western (Memphis) Division
Record Group 21
National Archives Identifier: 279325

This exhibit is a flyer distributed to sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, asking them to "March for Justice and Jobs." Included are directions for the route to be followed and instructions to the marchers to use "soul-force which is peaceful, loving, courageous, yet militant."

[Defendants'] Exhibit 2
City of Memphis v. Martin Luther King, Jr., [et al.]
1968


Click to Enlarge

National Archives and Records Administration
Records of the United States District Court
Western District of Tennessee,
Western (Memphis) Division
Record Group 21
National Archives Identifier: 279326

This exhibit is a flyer distributed in Memphis, Tennessee, requesting volunteer assistance and offering instructions to sanitation workers and their sympathizers for the duration of a strike.

Answer to Plaintiff
City of Memphis v. Martin Luther King, Jr., [et al.]
1968


Click to Enlarge

National Archives and Records Administration
Records of the United States District Court
Western District of Tennessee,
Western (Memphis) Division
Record Group 21
National Archives Identifier: 279324

This document was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Western Division, April 4, 1968. It gives the response of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Hosea Williams, Reverend James Bevel, Reverend James Orange, Ralph D. Abernathy, and Bernard Lee to allegations by the city of Memphis, Tennessee, that they had been engaged in a conspiracy to incite riots or breaches of the peace. They also denied that they had refused to furnish information concerning marches and explained the steps they had taken to ensure the march would be nonviolent and under control. Dr. King further stated that he had received threats against his personal safety.

Portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Betsy G. Reyneau

Click to Enlarge

National Archives and Records Administration
Donated Collections
Record Group 200


Today in History, June 21, 1964: Civil rights workers slain in Mississippi

King Edward III died after ruling England for 50 years he was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

The United States Constitution went into effect as New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it.

Ohio Grove, which became Cincinnati’s Coney Island, opened at the old Parker’s Grove picnic spot.

Passengers walk along planks at the beach from the Island Queen to the entrance of Coney Island. Circa 1910 Detroit Publishing Company/The Library of Congress Coney Island, Cincinnati (Photo: Library of Congress)

The first Ferris wheel premiered at Chicago's Columbian Exposition.

An Imperial Japanese submarine fired at Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast, causing little damage.

Civil rights workers Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James E. Chaney were slain in Philadelphia, Mississippi their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam six weeks later. (Forty-one years later on this date in 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman, was found guilty of manslaughter he was sentenced to 60 years in prison, where he died in 2018.)

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. California, ruled that states may ban materials found to be obscene according to local standards.

Menachem Begin of the Likud bloc became Israel’s sixth prime minister.

A jury found John Hinckley Jr. not guilty by reason of insanity in the shootings of President Ronald Reagan and three other men.

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” a comedy fantasy starring Bob Hoskins that combined live action and legendary animated cartoon characters, premiered in New York.

Bob Hoskins and Roger Rabbit in a scene from the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." (Photo: Gannett News Service/Touchstone)

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that burning the American flag as a form of political protest was protected by the First Amendment.

The Food Network said it was dropping Paula Deen, barely an hour after the celebrity cook posted the first of two videotaped apologies online begging forgiveness from fans and critics troubled by her admission to having used racial slurs in the past.

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August 4 1964 Slain civil rights workers found

On August 4th 1964, the remains of three civil rights workers whose disappearance on June 21 garnered national attention were found buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, had travelled to heavily segregated Mississippi in 1964 to help organise civil rights efforts on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

The third man, James Chaney, was a local African American man who had joined CORE in 1963. The disappearance of the three young men led to a massive FBI investigation that was code-named MIBURN, for “Mississippi Burning.”

Michael Schwerner, who arrived in Mississippi as a CORE field worker in January 1964, aroused the animosity of white supremacists after he organised a successful black boycott of a variety store in the city of Meridian and led voting registration efforts for African Americans. In May, Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, sent word that the 24-year-old Schwerner, nicknamed “Goatee” and “Jew-Boy” by the KKK, was to be eliminated.

On the evening of June 16, two dozen armed Klansmen descended on Mt. Zion Methodist Church, an African American church in Neshoba County that Schwerner had arranged to use as a “Freedom School.” Schwerner was not there at the time, but the Klansmen beat several African Americans present and then torched the church.

On January 20, Schwerner returned from a civil rights training session in Ohio with 21-year-old James Chaney and 20-year-old Andrew Goodman, a new recruit to CORE. The next day–June 21–the three went to investigate the burning of the church in Neshoba.

While attempting to drive back to Meridian, they were stopped by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price just inside the city limits of Philadelphia, the county seat. Price, a member of the KKK who had been looking out for Schwerner or other civil rights workers, threw them in the Neshoba County jail, allegedly under suspicion for church arson.

After seven hours in jail, during which the men were not allowed to make a phone call, Price released them on bail. After escorting them out of town, the deputy returned to Philadelphia to drop off an accompanying Philadelphia police officer. As soon as he was alone, he raced down the highway in pursuit of the three civil rights workers. He caught the men just inside county limits and loaded them into his car.

Two other cars pulled up filled with Klansmen who had been alerted by Price of the capture of the CORE workers, and the three cars drove down an unmarked dirt road called Rock Cut Road. Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were shot to death and their bodies buried in an earthen dam a few miles from the Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

The next day, the FBI began an investigation into the disappearance of the civil rights workers. On June 23, the case drew national headlines, and federal agents found the workers’ burned station wagon. Under pressure from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the FBI escalated the investigation, which eventually involved more than 200 FBI agents and scores of federal troops who combed the woods and swamps looking for the bodies.

The incident provided the final impetus needed for the 1964 Civil Rights Act to pass Congress on July 2, and eight days later FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover came to Mississippi to open a new Bureau office. Eventually, Delmar Dennis, a Klansman and one of the participants in the murders, was paid $30,000 and offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for information. On August 4, the remains of the three young men were found. The culprits were identified, but the state of Mississippi made no arrests.

Finally, on December 4, nineteen men, including Deputy Price, were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney (charging the suspects with civil rights violations was the only way to give the federal government jurisdiction in the case).

After nearly three years of legal wrangling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately defended the indictments, the men went on trial in Jackson, Mississippi. The trial was presided over by an ardent segregationist, U.S. District Judge William Cox, but under pressure from federal authorities and fearing impeachment, he took the case seriously.

On October 27, 1967, an all-white jury found seven of the men guilty, including Price and KKK Imperial Wizard Bowers. Nine were acquitted, and the jury deadlocked on three others. The mixed verdict was hailed as a major civil rights victory, as no one in Mississippi had ever before been convicted for actions taken against a civil rights worker.

In December, Judge Cox sentenced the men to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years. After sentencing, he said, “They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them what I thought they deserved.” None of the convicted men served more than six years behind bars.

On June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the three murders, Edgar Ray Killen, was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter. At eighty years of age and best known as an outspoken white supremacist and part-time Baptist minister, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.


Aug. 4, 1964: Civil Rights Workers Bodies Found

On Aug. 4, 1964, the bodies of three lynched civil rights workers (James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman) were found, after disappearing more than a month before.

On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were tortured and murdered by the KKK with help from the deputy sheriff near Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi. They were killed defending the right to learn and human rights for all.

The three young men had traveled to Neshoba County to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which had been a site of a CORE Freedom School. While searching for the three civil rights workers, bodies of other African Americans were found including Henry Dee and Charles Moore.

Learn More

Read “Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman” at the Civil Rights Movement veterans (crmvet.org) website, a detailed description of their arrest, the complicity between the “law enforcement” and the Klan, their murder, and the fight to have their bodies found, autopsied, and the murderers cha rged.

See the Southern Poverty Law Center list of Civil Rights Martyrs for more names of people murdered in the fight for voting rights and human rights in the United States.

Related Resources

Teaching SNCC: The Organization at the Heart of the Civil Rights Revolution

Teaching Activity. By Adam Sanchez. 24 pages. Rethinking Schools.
A series of role plays that explore the history and evolution of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, including freedom rides and voter registration.

Who Gets to Vote? Teaching About the Struggle for Voting Rights in the United States

Teaching Activity. By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca. 2020.
Unit with three lessons on voting rights, including the history of the struggle against voter suppression in the United States.

“A School Year Like No Other”: Eyes on the Prize: “Fighting Back: 1957-1962”

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. Rethinking Schools.
A companion lesson to the Eyes on the Prize segment on school integration.

Sharecroppers Challenge U.S. Apartheid: The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

Teaching Activity. By Julian Hipkins III, Deborah Menkart, Sara Evers, and Jenice View.
Role play on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) that introduces students to a vital example of small “d” democracy in action. For grades 7+.

The Voting Rights Act: Ten Things You Should Know

Article. By Emilye Crosby and Judy Richardson. 2015.
Key points in the history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act missing from most textbooks.

Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

Book – Non-fiction. By John Dittmer. 1995.
A detailed, grassroots description of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.

May 7, 1955: Murder of Rev. George W. Lee

Rev. George W. Lee, one of the first African Americans registered to vote in Humphreys County since Reconstruction and head of the Belzoni, Mississippi NAACP, was murdered.

Aug. 13, 1955: Lamar Smith Murdered

Lamar Smith, 63-year-old farmer and WWI veteran, was shot dead in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging African Americans to vote.

June 21, 1964: Three Civil Rights Workers Murdered in Mississippi

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were tortured and murdered by the KKK in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

July 12, 1964: Henry Dee and Charles Moore Case

The bodies of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, were found in the Mississippi River. They had been tortured and murdered by the Klan two months earlier.

Feb. 26, 1965: Jimmie Lee Jackson Murdered

Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot by an Alabama state troopers during a peaceful voting rights march on Feb. 18. and died eight days later.

Jan. 10, 1966: Voting Rights Activist Vernon Dahmer Murdered

Vernon Dahmer was killed when the Ku Klux Klan fired bombed his home. This was one day after Dahmer offered to pay the election poll tax for anyone who could not afford it.

July 22, 1966: Lawful Demonstrators Threatened by Klan and Police in Grenada, Mississippi

US District Judge issued an injunction ordering police in Grenada, Mississippi to stop interfering with lawful protest. This ruling followed weeks of arrests and beating of demonstrators who had been attempting to desegregate businesses in the town.


Civil rights workers' car is found

AP Photo/Jack Thornell

The burned station wagon of three missing civil rights workers was located on June 24, 1964 in a swampy area near Philadelphia, Miss. Only a shell remained. The tires, windows, interior and exterior were completely burned. Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were arrested in the station wagon on June 21, 1964 before they went missing.


"Mississippi Burning" murders resonate 50 years later

The postcard looks ordinary enough. It's a message written from a 20-year-old to his parents, informing them that he'd arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi for a summer job.

"This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here," Andrew Goodman wrote to his mom and dad back in New York City. "The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy."

The card was postmarked June 21, 1964. That was the day Andy Goodman was murdered.

Fifty years have passed since Goodman and two other civil rights workers, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, were ambushed and shot dead by the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Their bodies were found buried in an earthen damn in rural Neshoba County - 44 days after they went missing.

The three young men had been volunteering for a "Freedom Summer" campaign to register African-American voters. Their efforts helped pave the way for the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965 and their murders were dramatized in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."

Andy Goodman's fateful journey to Mississippi began in Manhattan, where he grew up in an upper-middle class family on the Upper West Side. His younger brother, David, says Andy was focused on fairness from an early age - whether it was protecting a little sibling from bullies or protesting social injustices around the country. As a teenager, Andy would take his younger brother to Woolworths, where people demonstrated against school segregation in the south.

Andrew Goodman in a 1963 family photo. Courtesy: David Goodman

"He just said . it's unfair that because of the color of your skin, you should go to a lousy school," David Goodman said. "It was an issue of fairness to him."

The Long March For Civil Rights

That sense of social justice led Andy Goodman to Ohio in June 1964. It was there, at a training session for the Congress of Racial Equality, that the Queens College student would meet James Chaney, a black 21-year-old from Mississippi, and Michael Schwerner, a white 24-year-old from New York. They were training hundreds of other volunteers on how to handle the racial turmoil and potential harassment awaiting them in Mississippi.

While in Ohio, Schwerner got word that one of the freedom schools he had set up in a church had been burned down. He and Chaney needed a volunteer to help them investigate the fire and they were quickly impressed by the level-headed Goodman. The three men drove down to Mississippi on June 20. The next day, they were stopped by the police and accused of speeding. After being released from jail that night, they disappeared - and a nation was riveted.

President Lyndon Johnson ordered the FBI to assist local law enforcement officers in the search for the missing men. Johnson's aide Lee White told the president that there was no trace of the men and they had "disappeared from the face of the earth." Civil rights colleagues worried they had been nabbed by the KKK. Some locals dismissed their disappearance as a publicity stunt.

Finally, on August 4, 1964, their bodies were found buried on the secluded property of a Klansman. All three men had been shot at point blank range and Chaney had been badly beaten.

In this Dec. 4, 1964 file photo civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King displays pictures of three civil rights workers, who were slain in Mississippi the summer before, from left Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, at a news conference in New York. ASSOCIATED PRESS

During the six-week search, the bodies of nine black men had been dredged out of local swamps. Though numerous African-Americans had been missing and presumed dead with little media attention in Mississippi during that time, the murders of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney rocked the nation.

Said David Goodman, who was 17 years old when his brother was killed: "It took two white kids to legitimize the tragedy of being murdered if you wanted to vote."

It took four decades - and a determined reporter - to achieve a measure of justice in the case.

In 1964, the Justice Department, then led by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, knew they were up against segregationist authorities who would never charge the alleged attackers as well as all-white juries who would refuse to convict the suspects of murder. So the feds prosecuted the case under an 1870 post-reconstruction civil rights law. Seven of the 18 men arrested - including the Neshoba County deputy sheriff who tipped off the KKK to the men's whereabouts - were convicted of civil rights violations, but not murder. None served more than six years in prison. Three Klansmen, including Edgar Ray Killen, were acquitted because of jury deadlock.

In this Oct. 19, 1967 file photo, Neshoba County Sheriff Deputy Cecil Price, right, with Edgar Ray Killen as they await their verdicts in the murder trial of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Meridian, Miss. Jack Thornell, AP

But Killen's name would surface decades later, in large part thanks to Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. Mitchell's interest in the case had piqued after watching a press screening of "Mississippi Burning" in 1988. A pair of FBI agents at the screening dissected the film for Mitchell and told the reporter what really happened.

"The thing that was horrifying to me was you had more than 20 guys involved in killing these three young men and no one has been prosecuted for murder," Mitchell recalled.

Mitchell, whose reporting also helped secure convictions in other high-profile civil rights era cases, began looking closely at the "Mississippi Burning" case. His big break came when he obtained leaked files from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a segregationist group that tried to curb growing civil rights activism. Mitchell found out that the state had spied on Michael Schwerner and his wife for three months before he, Goodman and Chaney were murdered.

Mitchell was also able to obtain a sealed interview with Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, one of the men convicted in the initial trial. In that interview, Mitchell said, Bowers bragged that he was "quite delighted" to be convicted and have a preacher who planned the killings walk out a free man. That preacher was Edgar Ray Killen.

In 2005, Killen was arrested and charged with murder for orchestrating the slayings of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. At the trial, 89-year-old Carolyn Goodman took the stand and read the postcard that her son had written to her on the last day of his life.

Reputed Ku Klux Klan member Edgar Ray Killen responded loudly with "not guilty" three times, Jan. 7, 2005, as he was arraigned on murder charges in the slayings of three civil rights workers, at the Neshoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia, Miss. AP Photo/Rogelio Solis

On June 21, 2005 - 41 years to the day after the murders - Killen was found guilty of manslaughter. Now 89 years old, he is serving 60 years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman - the same prison that housed hundreds of Freedom Riders in the early 60s.

The year after the Killen verdict, the FBI reached out to local authorities and other organizations to try todig up information on other racially motivated murders that were unsolved from the civil rights era. Mitchell says that task is increasingly hard given the dearth of solid leads and decades that have passed.

The courts had finally acknowledged the "Mississippi Burning" killings but the public sentiment was mixed. After Killen was arrested, Mitchell says he was threatened by some residents in an area where a "let-sleeping-dogs-lie" mentality prevailed. One man wrote a letter in 2005 to the Clarion-Ledger editor, saying Mitchell "should be tarred, feathered and run out of the state of Mississippi."

But Mitchell says others were grateful for the belated justice as Mississippi tried to shed its racially charged past. While it was a struggle for African-Americans to vote in 1964, Mississippi now has more elected black officials than any other state in the country.

"Mississippi has come further really than any other state I think, but it had so much further to go than any other state too," Mitchell said. "There's still a tremendous amount of work to be done."

David Goodman believes that sentiment holds true across the country as the issue of voter ID requirements is still hotly debated. After the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act just last year, Andy Goodman's brother can't help but remember the summer of 1964.

"It's like 50 years back to the future. . Here we are a half a century later, basically talking about the same thing," Goodman said. "It's certainly a different incarnation in that no one's getting killed, as far as I know, because they want to vote but they're being kind of spiritually assassinated or restrained. It's in this day and age just as bad, relatively speaking. It's wrong."

But Goodman does not dwell on injustice. Instead he is following in his brother's footsteps and taking action. He runs the Andrew Goodman Foundation, a group launched by his mother that pushes civic engagement and social justice through voting initiatives and journalism scholarships. Goodman says if his brother were alive today, he'd be doing the exact same thing.

"What we're doing is - what I expect he'd be doing - is to get together with your friends and to create an action - a back-to-the-future kind of voter consciousness platform so you can get voter rights back on track," he said.

David Goodman will be in Philadelphia, Mississippi on Saturday to talk about pressing social issues like voting rights. He will have a copy of his brother's 50-year-old postcard with him.

The postcard that Andy Goodman wrote to his parents. It is postmarked June 21, 1964, Meridian, Miss. Courtesy: David Goodman


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JACKSON, Miss. -- Three civil rights workers who were killed by Ku Klux Klansmen in 1964 are going to be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but the honour makes some of their relatives uneasy.

They worry it could relegate the racial equality movement to history books when it should instead be seen as relevant as ever, particularly in light of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old in August.

A widow of one of the civil rights activists said the honour, which will be awarded Monday in a ceremony at the White House, "distorts history."

"There were not just three men who were part of a struggle. There were not just three men who were killed," Rita Schwerner Bender told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her law office in Seattle. "You know, the struggle in this country probably started with the first revolt on a slave ship, and it continues now."

The civil rights workers - Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman - were killed June 21, 1964, in Neshoba County, Mississippi. The FBI launched a massive investigation that it dubbed "Mississippi Burning," and the three bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam.

Goodman's younger brother, David Goodman of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, said the killings received intense national attention, from President Lyndon B. Johnson on down, because two of the activists, Goodman and Schwerner, were white.

"It took (the deaths of) two white men to wake up white America what black America in the South particularly knew - that you could get murdered for your opinion or wanting to vote," David Goodman said.

Schwerner, of New York, moved to Mississippi in early 1964 to work on black voter registration and other projects. Chaney, who was black and from Mississippi, befriended him. Goodman, who was also from New York, underwent civil rights training in Ohio before arriving in Mississippi.

The three men drove to Neshoba County on June 21, 1964, to investigate the burning of a black church. As they left the church, a deputy stopped their station wagon, cited Chaney for speeding and took the three to the Neshoba County jail. The deputy released them late that night, and the men were ambushed by awaiting Klansmen who chased them to an isolated country road and shot them to death.

In 1967, an all-white jury in Meridian convicted seven men on federal civil rights charges tied to the conspiracy to kill Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. The state reopened an investigation decades later, and on June 21, 2005 - exactly 41 years after the slayings - a jury made up of whites and blacks in Neshoba County convicted Edgar Ray Killen of manslaughter. He remains in state prison.

Chaney's sister, the Rev. Julia Chaney Moss, of Willingboro, New Jersey, said her older brother would always ask their mother: "`Why do we have to live this way?'"

She said the award should be for all of those killed during the civil rights movement.

"It's really about all of those families," she said. "It's really about the history of the pain of the African-American experience in Mississippi."

The activists are among 19 people, including Stevie Wonder and Meryl Streep, who will be awarded the nation's highest civilian honour Monday.


1 Harry And Harriette Moore


The only couple murdered during the Civil Rights Movement, the Moores were killed on Christmas Day in 1955 when a firebomb placed directly under their bedroom detonated with enough force to send their bed through the rafters of their home in Mims, Florida. Both of the Moores were educators and deeply involved in the NAACP, focusing especially on the issues of black and white educator salaries and segregation. Later, Harry Moore moved his focus to a much more controversial and dangerous topic: police brutality and lynchings.

Due to their involvement in these issues, the couple lost their jobs in the schools and, eventually, their lives. Harry died in the initial blast, while his wife died nine days later. The couple left behind two daughters. While the blast was initially called &ldquothe bomb heard round the world&rdquo and spurred all kinds of rallies and letters to the governor and president, all these years later, their legacy has been left largely untended and untold. Nobody was ever charged for the murders of the Moores.

Katlyn Joy is a freelance writer living in Denver, CO. She tutors students in history and language arts, and is a mom to seven children. She has a passion for helping others remember those heroes of the movement who may become lost history.


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