Friday, March 30, 2012

Civil rights workers died young, but brought changes to U. S.

(The author is an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)
Three men were murdered on June 21, 1964, at 10:15 pm in Neshoba County, Mississippi. They were driving along the road when a police officer named Ceil Bryans pulled over the Ford station wagon.  When a mob attacked the car and dragged James Chaney an African American out of the car and was beaten brutally then shot three times. Schwerner was taken out of the car and through the heart, next was the murder of Andrew Goodman. Next the mob poured a quart of gas on the station wagon and lit it on fire. The murders took a bulldozer and buried the bodies at a near by dam hoping none would never find them.

James Chaney was driving down a back road in Neshoba County, which is dangerous territory for an African American activist. A person who spoke out against a white person would not be seen ever again alive. The FBI wouldn't protect the activists for the Freedom Summer so everyone had to be careful what they did or said so they would be alive the next day.  Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman had been in a training facility in Oxford, Ohio training college age people for protesting and helping the African Americans register to vote. ( and one of the churches in Neshoba County had been burned down by the Ku Klux Klan when they were looking for Michael Schwerner because they didn't like that he had help many African Americans register to vote during the Freedom Summer of 1964.  On their way back from the burned down church the activist were pulled over for speeding and then were incarcerated the local jail for the arson of the black church they had just visited to take in the damage of the bombing and were held for a few hours while the Ku Klux Klan gathered to murder the activists and showed them a picture of the Ford station wagon James Chaney had been driving. One of the police officers that arrested James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner was part of the Ku Klux Klan.  One of their friends back in Oxford, Ohio, was worried and was telephoning everyone looking for where the missing activists had gone. Michael Schwerner asked the officer so he could tell his wife where he was. ( She finally phoned the CORE and got James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner released from their imprisonment. The activists sped for Oxford, Ohio on Highway 19 trying not to be caught at night in Neshoba County home to many Ku Klux Klan members. The mob of Ku Klux Klan had been gathering on Highway 19 for several hours just waiting for the activists and arguing such a sick thing as who gets to shoot whom first. The Ku Klux Klan intercepted the Ford station wagon and dragged out James Chaney the African American, who was driving, beat him then shot him three times wanting him to suffer for just having a different skin color than the "dominant" race. Next restraining Andrew Schwerner knowing what he was going to receive for doing the right thing a standing up for the African Americans of the world. This brave activist was shot through the heart, then Andrew Goodman's murder. I imagine that the Ku Klux Klan members watched Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner's blood drain onto the dirty street. The only problem the Ku Klux Klan had was the car so they got a quart of gasoline and drenched the car with it then lit it with a match and watched it burn. The Ku Klux Klan hid the bodies in a dam where they laid there for about three months decomposing. ( The FBI spent $800,000 interviewing some of the townspeople and some of the Ku Klux Klan members, and they finally found out the details of the night of the murder of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. (Page 270 of Freedom Summer) After the murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner a New York Times reporter wrote this poem:

"Here's to the state of Mississippi.
For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines,
If you drag her muddy rivers, nameless bodies you will find.
The fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes.
And the calendar is lying when it reads the present time.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of,
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be a part of."

(Page 247 of the book Freedom Summer)
Here is another quote from Matt Jones of SNCC's Freedom Singers.

"We have our head and cried,
Cried for those like Lee who died
Died for you and died for me,
Died for the cause of equality,
But we will never turn back
Until we've all been free
And we have equality,
And we have equality.

(From the book We Are Not Afraid on the page 33)
Ben Chaney James Chaney's brother said that the funeral was very sad and he wants to follow in his brother's footsteps in standing up for his fellow citizen's right to vote. (

The Trial

In the first trial there was a hung jury because one of the jurors couldn't convict a preacher Edgar Ray Killen the mastermind of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner who was a Ku Klux Klan member.  On the second trial they convicted Edgar Ray Killen of three accounts of manslaughter. This was a lesser charge. He was convicted of the maximum sentence of sixty years in prison and Edgar Ray Killen is still in prison today. While Edgar Ray Killen was in jail he confessed to a multitude of unsolved crimes that involved his racism. (
The civil rights era has influenced the present greatly. If James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had not stood up for what they believed in then we might not have equal rights today. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are hero for what they did to influence our world today.


Watson, Bruce- Freedom Sumer – Hudson Street, New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2010

Huie, Williams- Three Lives for Mississippi. Press of Mississippi/ Jackson: WWE Books, 1965.

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