Monday, June 23, 2014

Fifty Years Ago: Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner

Fifty years ago this weekend, three young men whose name are among the most revered names in the Civil Rights Movement, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were arrested and murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. These young men were among the brave young people who came to Mississippi during Freedom Summer. Freedom Summer was a the summer when voter registration, education, economic development and citizenship workshops were conducted by hundreds of black and white college students with the goal of recruiting citizens and building community. 

I thought this NBC news broadcast - itself 50 years old - could relay the urgency, panic and fear felt by the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), friends of these young men, their families and blacks throughout the south felt because of the violence and hatred towards blacks and those who wanted to help them achieve true freedom. 

While this is a contemporary account of the slaying of these men, the conclusion of the story won't be told. The following is a brief account of what happened...

In August their bodies were found in a mud dam on the property of Olen Burrage. Goodman and Schwerner, white New Yorkers in their early 20s who had come South as part of a wave of young activists, had been shot. So had Chaney, a 20-year-old black Mississippian, whose body also showed signs of having been beaten, tortured and mutilated.
The case was a big story in the national news and also attracted the attention of the F.B.I.and the Justice Department, which won a handful of convictions, and light sentences, on federal civil rights charges a few years later. But no state charges, for murder or anything else, were brought until 2005, when the Mississippi attorney general obtained an indictment against Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old preacher and sawmill operator long believed to have been one of the main organizers of the killings.

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