Remembering (left to right)James Chaney (aged 21), Andrew Goodman(aged 20), and Michael Schwerner (aged 24), the threecivil rights activists who were murdered during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan on June 21st, near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
The three young men were investigating the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which had been a site for a CORE (Congress Of Racial Equality) Freedom School. In the wake of Schwerner and Chaney’s voter registration rallies, parishioners had been beaten by whites. They accused the Sheriff’s Deputy, Cecil Price, of stopping their caravan, and forcing the deacons to kneel in the headlights of their own cars, while white men beat them with rifle butts. That same group was identified as having burned the church.
Later, Deputy Price arrested the three (Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman) under the pretext of a traffic violation and took them to the Neshoba County jail. They were released that evening, without being allowed to telephone anyone. On the way back to Meridian, they were stopped by patrol lights & two carloads of KKK members on Hwy 19 then taken in the car to another remote rural road. The men approached then shot and killed Schwerner, then Goodman, and finally Chaney, after chain-whipping him. They buried the young men in an earthen dam nearby.
The men’s bodies remained undiscovered for 44 days. The FBI was quickly brought into the case by John Doar, the Department of Justice representative in Mississippi monitoring the situation during Freedom Summer. The missing civil-rights workers became a major national story, especially coming on top of other events as civil rights workers were active across Mississippi in a voter registration drive.
Schwerner’s widow Rita, (who remains active in the civil rights movement) also worked for CORE in Meridian, Mississippi, expressed indignation that the press had ignored previous murders and disappearances of black people in the area, but had highlighted this case because two white men from New York had gone missing. She said she believed that if only Chaney were missing, the case would not have received nearly as much attention.