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An Interview with Carolyn Goodman
Dr. Carolyn Goodman, 89, is the mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young men murdered in 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi during the civil rights struggles.
Dr. Goodman, a psychologist for the past three decades, has devoted much of her life to the ongoing struggle to bring the murderers to justice. In June of this year, a breakthrough occurred when Klan member Edgar Ray Killen was tried for his role in the killings. The jury split on the charge of murder but convicted Killen of manslaughter. Dr. Goodman testified at the trial, along with members of the families of Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. “I’m totally against capital punishment,” she told the American Psychological Association’s Monitor. “Who’s it going to help? But I do believe that the man who organized the murder of three civil rights workers should be incarcerated.”
Less than two months into his sixty-year sentence, however, Killen, 80, was freed on bail pending appeal. While Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has petitioned the court to return Killen to prison as an escape risk and a dangerous man, it is likely he will remain at large until the Mississippi Supreme Court rules on his appeal in 2006.
Carolyn Goodman and her late husband, Robert, who died in 1969, were activists whose Manhattan apartment, during Andrew’s childhood, hosted many gatherings of victims of McCarthyism. “In this house he heard a lot of people speak freely,” she told the Neshoba Democrat, a Mississippi newspaper, in 1989. “He knew that his parents would go out and picket on the line for better working conditions for working people.” Following Andrew’s murder, the couple set up a foundation for civil rights and social justice. The Andrew Goodman Foundation helped initiate bus caravans in 1989, 1994, 1999, and 2005 to commemorate Freedom Summer of 1964 and press for voter registration and turnout.
In 1996, Dr. Goodman received the President’s Medal from Queens College, where her son was enrolled at the time of his murder. The clock tower of the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library is dedicated to the three slain civil rights workers.
This interview was conducted by Jewish Currents editorial board member Henry Foner.
Jewish Currents: Carolyn, you have just returned from Mississippi, and this, of course, has been a very critical period, with the trial and the revived interest that has been expressed in the murders of the three heroic young men, including your son, Andrew. Tell us something about what happened in Mississippi this time around.
Carolyn Goodman: What happened in Mississippi took a long time to take place. The families of my son and his colleagues, and of many other victims of the Ku Klux Klan, have waited a long time for a resolution of this case. What happened in Mississippi was about justice being finally served there. All those people who had been victims of the Klan — and believe me, there were many — were at last able to receive some justice. Many in the courtroom were people of my age. There were wives and husbands and siblings and cousins of victims of the Klan — and they came from all over the country, some even from outside the country. It was a very, very moving event.
JC: Several months ago you helped arrange for one of the relatives of James Chaney to speak at a memorial event at the Museum of the Jewish Heritage in Battery Park. Were relatives of all three — Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner — present in Mississippi for the trial?
CG: Yes, James’ mother Fannie Lee Chaney and his brother Ben were there, along with Rita Bender, Michael’s wife, and my son David and I.
It is interesting that you should mention the event at the Museum of the Jewish Heritage. I was there just a few days ago, being questioned by a wonderful woman, Ivy Barsky, who is doing a remarkable job as the museum’s administrator. My visits to the museum always produce a mixture of sadness and wonder. There are so many people who come up to me and say, “Dr. Goodman, you may not remember me, but . . .”
JC: I’m sure that those are a running theme in your life these days. I must tell you, however, that the day I was there for the memorial for your son and his colleagues, I sat next to a group of people who did not know much about the events of that period, but they were so deeply moved by what they heard that when the time came for us to join hands for the singing of We Shall Overcome, they did it with such feeling that I felt that I was experiencing a revival.
Tell more about what actually happened in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
CG: It was somewhat frightening to realize that the Klan is not just a matter of history but is still very much around. My son, David, who doesn’t let me go anywhere without him, accompanied me to the trial, and one of the officials told him, “I’m going to get you and your mother a driver, and he’s going to be with you wherever you go — and I do mean wherever you go.”
Sure enough, during the trial, I told the man assigned to us that I wanted to go to the bathroom, thinking that he would simply point out where it was. No, he accompanied me right to the door and waited until I was through. That’s what happened throughout the time we were there.
When we got to the plane to leave, I told David that it was a relief. “You may not realize it,” he said, “but that man was on the lookout because they had been told that the Klan is still out to get you.”
JC: I remember participating, with a number of other trade unionists, in the march from Selma to Montgomery. While we were down there, Viola Liuzzo, one of the participants, was murdered, and I remember how we were given the news as we boarded the plane to return home and what a frightening feeling it was. It is terrible that the town of Philadelphia has had to bear the reputation through the years as being the scene of that horribly inhuman act.
CG: Yes, but on the other hand, there are some wonderful, wonderful people there. One is Stanley Dearman, the retired editor of the Neshoba Democrat, who has a long history of standing up to the Klan. Another is Jerry Mitchell, whose investigations as a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger [of Jackson, Mississippi] helped lead to Killen’s arrest. In June, he received a medal from Queens College and was the commencement speaker. The President’s Medal also was awarded to the Philadelphia Coalition, which is the multiracial organization in Mississippi that campaigned for more than a year to reopen the case. Leroy Clemons, the co-chair, came up to Queens College to accept. I also spoke at the graduation.
JC: How long were you actually in Philadelphia, Mississippi this time? CG: For four days. After that, they came to me and said, “Listen, you’ve been here long enough and we know how stressful this must be for you.” They were right, it was a very stressful experience. They put me on the stand and had me identify a picture of Andy, then had me read a postcard he had sent me from Mississippi back in 1964. I had the feeling that the jury was very close to tears.
JC: Tell us something about the man who was on trial, Edgar Ray Killen.
CG: Let me just describe to you a moment during the trial. We’re all sitting there and the guards bring in as a witness a prisoner, Michael Winstead — a well-spoken man in a yellow jumpsuit. There is Killen sitting in a wheelchair at the far end of the courtroom. They asked the witness, “Can you point to the man who headed the group of killers?” He raised his hand dramatically and pointed to Killen: “It was him.” He testified that, at the age of 10, he had heard Killen admitting to Winstead’s grandfather that he had a part in the murder and was “proud of it.” Then the witness was asked if he was being paid for his testimony. He said no: “The fact is I don’t think what was done was right.” [Winstead is in prison for rape and did not receive a shortened sentence or other privileges for testifying. He told the jury: “The fact is I’ve got a son over in Iraq fighting for the same thing those boys did.” — Ed.]
But Killen never apologized. He just sat there impassively.
JC: Has the trial brought some closure to you after years of agony?
CG: Yes, it has, and I am grateful to Jewish Currents for making it possible for me to bring the story of this trial to your readers, who have always supported our efforts to bring this terrible miscarriage of justice to the attention of wider and wider circles of the American people.
JC: Our readers know about the horrible crime committed against your son and his two companions, but they know relatively little about what prompted Andrew to volunteer to go to Mississippi. Could you tell us something about his motivation?
CG: I think his family and school experiences played an important role in his actions during that fateful summer.
Andrew was the second of my three sons. We were an activist household. When he was a boy, we were involved in the fight against McCarthyism and we hosted people like Zero Mostel, Alger Hiss, and Martin Popper, the attorney for the Hollywood Ten who became our family spokesperson after Andrew’s disappearance.
Andy was also influenced by his remarkable grandfather, Charles Goodman, who took advantage of a free education at Cooper Union to become one of the outstanding engineers of his period. When New York’s water supply was threatened, Charles was sent to the Catskill Mountains to deal with the problem and was successful at coping with it.
The combination of Andrew’s family influence and that of the schools he attended — such as the Walden School and Queens College — and his realization that he had led a relatively sheltered life, tended to make him feel that he could make a contribution to the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
JC: Surely the trauma of, first, the three young men’s disappearance, and then the shocking realization of their fate, had a devastating effect on you — yet you have managed to mobilize your own energies and to inspire others to follow your lead in keeping the case alive until it could reach some form of closure. What is your secret?
CG: I suppose to some extent I have been subject to the same type of influences that prompted Andrew to do what he did, except that I have had the additional motivation of living up to the remarkable standards he set for all of us.
I have also benefited from the comfort and support of countless people. This entire experience has strengthened my belief in the basic decency of the vast majority of man and womankind.
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.