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June 21: Philadelphia, Mississippi

Lawrence Bush
June 21, 2010

freedom-summer-murders3Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi shortly after midnight on this date in 1964. Goodman, 20, and Schwerner, 24, were New Yorkers who came to Mississippi as part of the “Freedom Summer” drive for Black voter registration; James Chaney, 21, was a local activist with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). After investigating the arson of a church that was being used as a freedom school, they were arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, a KKK member, and detained in a Neshoba County jail until their killers had made their plans. Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were then waylaid on the road and shot to death (after Chaney was badly beaten). The case captured national attention and led to an FBI investigation after President Johnson pressured J. Edgar Hoover. The bodies were found on August 4th thanks to a tip from a highway patrolman, Maynard King. The State of Mississippi refused to prosecute the killers, but the U.S. Justice Department convicted seven men (out of eighteen charged) with violating their victims’ civil rights. It took an additional forty years for Mississippi to reopen the case and convict Edgar Ray Killen, a preacher involved in the conspiracy, on three counts of murder.
“It was somewhat frightening to realize that the Klan is not just a matter of history but is still very much around.” -Carolyn Goodman (Andrew’s mother), 2005.
Further reading: a 2005 Jewish Currents interview with Carolyn Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s mother.

Watch a 1964 hourlong NBS News report on the murder of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney:

​​​​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.