Saturday, June 21, 2014

50th Anniversary Of The Freedom Summer Murders

1964: An FBI poster seeking information as to the whereabouts of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner, Civil Rights campaigners who went missing in Mississippi. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)This month marks the 50th anniversary of the start of Freedom Summer, which was a ten week coordinated civil rights campaign organized by the four Mississippi branches of CORE, SNCC, SCLC and the NAACP under the Council of Federated Organization coalition banner. 

The Freedom Summer campaign was designed to register African-American voters in Mississippi, which at the time had only 6.7% of its Black population registered because of the measures put in place to suppress it such as poll taxes, subjective literacy tests, onerous voter registration forms and grandfather clauses.

It also set up Freedom Houses, Freedom Schools and community centers to support the African-American population in many Mississippi small towns.   

Over 1000 out of state volunteers came to Mississippi to help the local Blacks participating in the Freedom Summer Project.   Two of them were New Yorkers Michael Schwerner, who was a CORE organizer and his summer volunteer Andrew Goodman.   They were paired with local CORE organizer James Chaney.

Of course, Freedom Summer was met by violent resistance by the Klan, the White Citizens Councils and other white segregationists in the state.  Black churches were bombed and burned along with Black businesses, Freedom Summer volunteers were beaten or arrested.

On June 21, 1964 Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were sent to Longdale, MS to investigate the June 16 burning of the Mt Zion Baptist Church in which they had intended to set up a Freedom School to aid the voter registration drive in Neshoba County.    

After their investigation, the civil rights workers were enroute back to COFO headquarters in Meridian when they were falsely arrested in Philadelphia, MS, detained until after nightfall, and released into a Klan ambush.  

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were killed and their bodies buried in an earthen dam under construction.   They were found weeks later after an intensive search.

The perps were eventually convicted in 1967.  Edgar Ray Killen's original trial deadlocked, and he wasn't convicted until 2005.

The murders of the civil rights workers and the national outrage behind it helped galvanized support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Right Act of 1965. 


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