James Earl Chaney

James Earl Chaney


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James Earl Chaney, the son of a plasterer, was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on 30th May 1943. An early supporter of the struggle for civil rights, Chaney was suspended from school for wearing a NAACP badge. After leaving Harris Junior College he worked with his father as an apprentice plasterer.

In October, 1963, Chaney began volunteer work at the Meridian office of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). He impressed Michael Schwerner, the head of the office, and was recommended for a full-time post with the organisation.

Chaney was involved with the CORE's Freedom Summer campaign. On 21st June, 1964, Chaney, along with Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, went to Longdale to visit Mt. Zion Methodist Church, a building that had been fire-bombed by the Ku Klux Klan because it was going to be used as a Freedom School.

On the way back to the CORE office in Meridian, the three men were arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. Later that evening they were released from the Neshoba jail only to be stopped again on a rural road where a white mob shot them dead and buried them in a earthen dam.

When Attorney General Robert Kennedy heard that the men were missing, he arranged for Joseph Sullivan of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to go to Mississippi to discover what has happened. On 4th August, 1964, FBI agents found the bodies in an earthen dam at Old Jolly Farm.

On 13th October, Ku Klux Klan member, James Jordon, confessed to FBI agents that he witnessed the murders and agreed to co-operate with the investigation. Eventually nineteen men are arrested and charged with violating the civil rights of Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. This included Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price.

On 24th February, 1967, Judge William Cox dismissed seventeen of the nineteen indictments. However, the Supreme Court overruled him and the Mississippi Burning Trial started on 11th October, 1967. The main evidence against the defendants came from James Jordon, who had taken part in the killings. Another man, Horace Barnette had also confessed to the crime but refused to give evidence at the trial.

Jordan claimed that Price had released Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner at 10.25. but re-arrested them before they were able to cross the border into Lauderdale County. Price then took them to to the deserted Rock Cut Road where he handed them over to the Ku Klux Klan.

On 21st October, 1967, seven of the men were found guilty of conspiring to deprive Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney of their civil rights and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years. This included James Jordon (4 years) and Cecil Price (6 years) but Sheriff Lawrence Rainey was acquitted.

Civil Rights activists led by Ruth Schwerner-Berner, the former wife of Michael Schwerner and Ben Chaney, the brother of James Chaney, continued to campaign for the men to be charged with murder. Eventually, it was decided to charge Edgar Ray Killen, a Ku Klux Klan member and part-time preacher, with more serious offences related to this case. On June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the crime, Killen was found guilty of the manslaughter of the three men.

In June 2016, 52 years after the killing of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, state and federal prosecutors have said that the investigation into the killings is over. Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood said. “The evidence has been degraded by memory over time, and so there are no individuals that are living now that we can make a case on at this point.”

The voice on the line was polite but insistent. The FBI was conducting a nationwide manhunt for three men who had disappeared in Mississippi. My car had been found abandoned in suspicious circumstances in nearby Louisiana. Would I come immediately to explain why, and whether I knew anything about the men? The voice on the line was polite but insistent. Would I come immediately to explain why, and whether I knew anything about the men?

The phone call was unnerving even though I had nothing to hide, and I hastened to obey the summons. Of course I knew that the men had gone missing: the case was rocking America that summer, exactly 40 years ago. America's turbulent civil rights decade was at its height and the missing men were three volunteer activists who had been helping black people stand up for their rights and register to vote in the Deep South's most violent state. They had been arrested by the deputy sheriff of Neshoba county on June 21, held for a few hours, and released after dark. Two days later their burned-out station wagon was discovered on a lonely road, but the men were nowhere to be found.

James Chaney, 21, was a black Mississippian from Meridian, a city in the eastern part of the state. Micky Schwerner, 24, was a Jewish activist from New York City who had spent four months in Meridian, running various civil rights projects. Andrew Goodman, 20, came from an upper-middle-class New York family, and had arrived in Mississippi only the day before he went missing. Their terrible story was later turned into a film, Mississippi Burning.

The three activists had disappeared a few hours after a cavalcade of 200 young people arrived in Mississippi for what was called the Freedom Summer. The term "human shields" was not yet in vogue but that is what we were. The idea was that as outsiders we might shame Mississippi's police and sheriffs into reducing their brutality. With the exception of a handful of foreigners such as myself, the roughly 800 volunteers were American - mostly students from prestigious Ivy League universities and other private colleges. We had to bring $500 for use as bail money in the very probable case of being arrested on trumped-up or minor charges.

There were a few middle-class blacks but the majority were affluent whites, and firm believers in the American dream. In the deep south they were vilified as "outside agitators", as though they had no business to be there. They discovered another America, a society in which they were indeed foreigners. Here was a state where blacks made up 45% of the population but only 6% had managed to overcome the poll taxes, the unfairly administered literacy tests and violent reprisals, just to get on the register to exercise their American right to vote.

Question: Then what happened?

Answer: About that time the Deputy's car came by, said something to the man in the red car, and the Deputy's car, and we took off to follow them.

Question: What deputy are you talking about?

Answer: Cecil Price.

Question: Then what did you do?

Answer: Turned the cars around come back toward highway 19.

Question: Then where did you go?

Answer: Turned left on highway 19 all the way to, oh about 34 miles to this other cut-off road which wasn't a paved highway and then they said somebody had better stay here and watch in case anything happens, 'til the other car comes.

Question: How about the people, uhh, did you pass the red car going?

Answer: Yes sir.

Question: You were going toward Philadelphia?

Answer: Yes sir.

Question: And was anyone in the red car when you passed it?

Answer: This young man and Sharpe were still there.

Question: Now, did any of these people, uhh did they both stay there?

Answer: No sir, Sharpe got in the, I believe he got in the wagon or the other car that was ahead of us, I don't know where he got in the police car or not.

Question: Will you tell the Court and Jury what you heard and what you did?

Answer: Well, I hear a car door slamming, and some loud talking, I couldn't understand or distinguish anybody's voice or anything, and then I heard several shots.

Question: Then what did you do?

Answer: Walked up the road toward where the noise came from.

Question: And what did you see when you walked up the road?

Answer: Just a bunch of men milling and standing around that had been in the two cars ahead of us and someone said, "better pick up these shells." I hollered, "what do you want me to do?"

Question: Then what did you do?

Answer: Then...

Question: Excuse me, did you see these three boys?

Answer: Yes sir, beside the road.

Question: How were they?

Answer: They were lying down.

Question: Were they dead?

Answer: I presume so, yes sir.

Now, what's the theory of the Government's case? Actually isn't it a theory of this case that here in Mississippi, that there is so much hate and prejudice in Mississippi that we hate all outsiders, and that there is a group of people here in Mississippi so filled with that hate that they conspire together and meet together organize organizations to do away and murder outsiders that come into this State.

Members of the Jury, I know you know what an old scapegoat is. It's nothing but just a billy goat with a bell on it, and they used to bring all of the other innocent animals into the slaughtering house, or the slaughtering pen, and when they get there and they go on with their slaughtering, and that's exactly what Jim Jordan is. But the most miraculous thing about that, I knew the government used that before, they have in years gone by, and all the times I've been engaged in the practice of law I never knew a State of a Government in the presentation of their case to try to blow hot and cold in the same breath. They got in here and they put Jim Jordan on the stand and he sat up there with his eyes all bugged out and he just rattles it off like that, just exactly what happened, he said. Then, the government, just a little bit later, brings statement and say you ought to convict somebody on which impeaches almost everything he said. I just don't see how the government can have so many theories of these cases and then represent to you there's no reasonable doubts, there's no mistake.

Buford Posey was stunned when he picked up the March 13 copy of the Neshoba Democrat, a local newspaper. Prominently featured was a photo of the newly sworn-in officers of the Neshoba County Shriners club. Among the men in the photo was Cecil Price who had just taken the oath as the Shriners' vice president.

"Cecil Price was the chief deputy sheriff of Neshoba County in 1964," Posey told the People's Weekly World in an exclusive interview. "He led the Ku Klux Klan that lynched Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman on Sunday night, June 21, 1964.I have tried without success to get Mississippi newspapers to comment on this outrage of Cecil Price being elected as a high-ranking Masonic leader," Posey said.

Although Posey comes from a prominent Mississippi family, he was active in the civil rights movement in the early '60s. He will tell you, with not a little bit of pride in his voice, that he was the first white person in Mississippi to join the NAACP. He now lives in Oxford, where he receives a small disability pension.

Posey said that the FBI knew who murdered the civil rights workers within hours of the grisly event. "In those days I was in Neshoba County, where I was born and raised. Though I traveled around a lot, I had been at my father's in Philadelphia because he was dying of prostate cancer," Posey said.

"The murders took place on a Sunday night, June 21, 1964 on Rock Cut Road, right off Highway 19. I was sitting home that night. It was late, 2 o'clock or something like that, and I received a call. I recognized the voice at once." The caller was Edgar Ray Killen, the "chaplain" of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. "We took care of your three friends tonight and you're next," Killen told Posey.

Posey had gone to Meridian the week before and talked to Schwerner, the oldest of the three murdered workers. "I told them to be careful. 'The Klan has sentenced you to death. You know the sheriffs up there, Lawrence Rainey and Cecil Ray Price, are Klan members.'"

The morning after the call from Killen, Posey contacted the FBI, first in Jackson and then New Orleans. "I told them I was a civil rights worker, who I worked for and what had happened. I told them the preachers' name and that I thought the sheriff's office was involved in the murder."

Though the FBI ignored Posey, a chain of events was soon set in motion that led to the discovery of the bodies and another three years later, the conviction of Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, Price and five others on federal charges of violating the civil rights of the three murdered men.

Posey had talked to newspaper columnist Drew Pearson who was a friend of President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson and the "big news organizations," according to Posey, started to put the pressure on.

Mississippi never brought state charges against any of the Klansmen who committed these crimes. Posey thinks there's a reason for that. "When I was coming up most of the white people in Mississippi didn't know it was against the law to murder a Black person," he said. He recalled an incident he witnessed as a child that shaped his thinking on the genocidal cruelty of racism.

"I was in Philadelphia one Saturday afternoon - in the olden days people came to town on Saturday - they were share croppers and the like. Well, to make a long story short, there was this Black teenager. There was this white woman who came out of a store right there on Court Square." The teen accidentally bumped into her. The woman started screaming.

"Well, some men went into Johnson's hardware store and took out some shotguns," Posey said. "They chased the poor young fellow around Court Square, shooting at him. They killed him and chained him to the flag pole."

In 1994 hundreds of veteran civil rights workers gathered in Jackson to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Among those attending the conference were Rita Schwerner, widow of Michael Schwerner, and Carolyn Goodman, mother of Andrew Goodman.

A political firestorm was set off when Dick Molphus, then a Democratic candidate for governor, apologized to Carolyn Goodman. Gov. Kirk Fordice rebuked Molphus, saying it did no good to drag up the past. Posey believes this provided the incentive for Neshoba County to "rehabilitate" Cecil Price.

The rededication of the grave site of James Chaney in nearby Meridian was the emotional highlight of the Mississippi homecoming. Chaney's brother, Ben, had a warning for civil rights veterans who had come to honor the three martyrs.

"There are a lot of good people in Mississippi," he said. "But there are still some who haven't learned the lessons of the past. There are still people in Mississippi who don't want my brother to rest in peace."

Chaney told the World that gunshots from a high-powered rifle had been fired into his brother's gravestone. At least one attempt had been made to dig up and steal the body.

Rev. Charles Johnson, who was a government witness in the federal trial of Chaney's murderers, sounded a more optimistic note. "These three men shed their blood in the state of Mississippi and because of them we have the Voting Rights Act. Because of them we have more elected Black officials in Mississippi than in any other state."

Johnson said, "In this state, hatred flowed like a river. Where hatred rolled, freedom and love now flow. We have to get to the young people and let them know what Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman did for them."

It was 41 years ago today that Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and Michael Chaney headed to Philadelphia to help some local blacks who had been beaten by the Klan and whose church had been burned. Today, we know that they were lured here to die....

When we had left here Monday night, we were a bit apprehensive that Killen would be acquitted. The jury’s forewoman had announced a 6-6 split. There’s no way to know yet, but on reflection today, it could have been 6 guilty for murder and 6 guilty for manslaughter. That makes more sense in the light of today’s pronouncements.

So, there I sat in the courtroom. Mickey Schwerner’s widow Rita Bender was within my sight as she waited anxiously on the front row on the left side of the courtroom. Killen’s family looked concerned on the right side.

Security was extensive around and within the Neshoba County courthouse. I saw men with rifles entering about 7 a.m. and the entire Philadelphia Swat team assembled nearby. Dozens of Highway Patrolmen were stationed at the doorways and within the courtroom. Just before the sentence was pronounced, the most muscular of the patrolmen came forward in the aisles to discourage any members of the public from doing anything inappropriate upon hearing Killen’s fate.

The jury was escorted in and lined up in a semicircle in front of the judge’s bench. Gordon asked if they had reached a verdict. They had, said the forewoman. Hand me the verdicts, Gordon said, then he read each carefully. He polled each one to determine if these verdicts were their own. Yes, each said. Then clerk Lee read the verdicts: guilty of manslaughter, guilty of manslaughter and guilty of manslaughter.

A collective sigh came from many onlookers, who had been admonished to behave when the verdicts were read. “The court appreciates your attention and services,” Gordon said to jurors just before they were dismissed and escorted to their vehicles. No one else moved or could move in the courtroom.

Killen’s white-haired wife rose from her seat near the front row and put her arms around him as he sat impassively in his wheelchair. At 11:26, Gordon said, “Edgar Ray Killen, a jury has found you guilty.” The judge committed him to the custody of the sheriff and Killen was wheeled from the courtroom. As Mrs. Killen sat back in her seat, the people on each side of her embraced her and each put an arm around her quavering shoulders...

After the verdict, the Media Center hosted a massive news conference, live on CNN and other media outlets. First to the microphone was Rita Schwerner Bender, then Ben Chaney, younger brother of James Chaney. I wish I could tell you exactly what they said, but I was busy trying to make sure things were moving along technically. When they completed lengthy remarks and thanks, they were followed by Attorney General Jim Hood of Houston and local District Attorney Mark Duncan. Hood and Duncan spent a lot of time at the mic talking about the trial, how difficult its preparation had been and about information they had that never got into testimony. Duncan would not say if any others could be tried in this crime.

Also making remarks were members of the Philadelphia Coalition, a local group of whites and blacks who had pressed hard for Killen’s indictment. Their faces told the story of how proud they felt of the trial’s conclusion.

I’m seeking to wind down the Media Center in hopes of getting back to the job I signed on for almost two years ago – at the Daily Journal. Thanks to Lloyd Gray and Mike Tonos for allowing me to do this. It has been an unforgettable experience I got to share with my son, a Meridian reporter headed for Ole Miss law school this fall. We’ll always be able to share this. It was a moment, but it was an important one because hopefully it has lifted the stigma of “Mississippi Burning” from our good state.

A Mississippi jury convicted former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen of manslaughter Tuesday, 41 years after the murder of three civil rights workers, including two from New York City.

The jury of nine whites and three blacks reached the verdict on their second day of deliberations, rejecting murder charges against the 80-year-old defendant.

Killen sat motionless as the verdict was read and was later comforted by his wife as he sat in his wheelchair, attached to an oxygen tube.

Civil rights workers James Chaney and New Yorkers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were ambushed on June 21, 1964. Their bodies were found 44 days later. They had been beaten and shot.

Here in New York, Goodman's mother told NY1 the verdict is one she has been waiting for ever since her son was killed.

"This is something I was hoping would happen," said Carolyn Goodman in a statement. "I have waited 40 years for this. I hope this man will pay for his crimes and know what he did."

Killen, who was a part-time preacher and sawmill operator, was tried in 1967 on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights. But the all-white jury deadlocked, with one juror saying she could not convict a preacher.

Seven others were convicted, but none served more than six years.

Killen was indicted on murder charges this time around, which could have carried a life sentence, but the defense appealed to the jury to lessen the conviction to manslaughter charges. Killen now faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the three counts.

The conviction comes exactly 41 years to the day after the three civil rights workers disappeared.

Exactly 41 years to the day after three young civil rights activists disappeared in Mississippi, Edgar Ray Killen, a Ku Klux Klan member and part-time preacher, yesterday became the first person convicted over their killing.

The jury found the 80-year-old guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were ambushed, beaten, and shot while working to promote black voting rights during the "freedom summer" of 1964.

Although the jury rejected the more serious murder charges against the former Klan leader, Killen could still face 20 years in prison for his part in the killings, which inspired the 1988 film Mississippi Burning. He will be sentenced tomorrow, Killen, wearing an oxygen mask and in a wheelchair since breaking both legs during a logging accident, showed no emotion as the verdict was read out.

Schwerner's widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, welcomed the verdict, calling it "a day of great importance to all of us". But she said others also should be held responsible for the murders. "Preacher Killen didn't act in a vacuum," she said. There are believed to be seven more men involved who are still alive.

The three victims - Chaney, a black activist from Mississippi, and Schwerner and Goodman, white activists from New York - were picked up by a local policeman after they visited the ruins of a black church burned down by the Klan the previous week. The men were released in the middle of the night, but the policeman, a Klan member, had tipped off local Klansmen and they were chased down in their car by a mob, who shot and then buried them. Their bodies were found 44 days later.

In 1967, 18 men, including Killen, were tried on conspiracy charges. Seven were convicted, but none served more than six years in prison. Killen walked free as a result of a hung jury.

The conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for the manslaughter of three civil rights workers has a symbolic significance that goes beyond the families of those who died 41 years ago.

At stake was not just how Killen would spend his fading years, but whether Mississippi - a state Martin Luther King described as "sweltering in injustice" in his "I have a dream" speech - could, and should, address its segregationist past...

Mark Duncan, the prosecuting district attorney countered: "There is only one question. Is a Neshoba county jury going to tell the rest of the world that we are not going to let Edgar Ray Killen get away with murder anymore? Not one day more."

Most of the evidence presented at the trial has been known for 40 years. "It wasn't like there was any one thing that happened that said, 'Here's the magic bullet'," Mr. Duncan told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "It really was that we had gotten to the end. There was nothing to do."

But as the defendants and the witnesses got older, there was a fear that Killen might die and take Mississippi's reputation down with him. For some this was a race against time to show that the potency of race in the former Confederacy had been extinguished.

Killen's manslaughter conviction, like the conviction of 22 others for civil rights-era killings in the past 16 years, was part of a push to show that the goods, as well as the packaging, had changed...

According to a census report from 2002, the top five residentially segregated metropolitan areas in the US are Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, St Louis and Newark - none of which is in the south. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, you will find higher rates of black poverty in the northern states of Wisconsin, Illinois and West Virginia than in Mississippi.

The only difference between the north and the south, wrote the late James Baldwin, was that "the north promised more. And (there was only) this similarity: what it promised it did not give and what it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other."

Nonetheless, if much has changed, much has remained the same. Indeed the Klan still march in town every year, and during the trial Harlan Majure, the mayor of Philadelphia during the 1990s, said he had no problem with the Ku Klux Klan. Mr Majure told the jury the Klan "did a lot of good up here", and claimed that he was not personally aware of the organisation's bloody past.

African Americans in the state remain at a huge disadvantage. Infant mortality rates are twice as high, earnings are half as much as whites, and black people are three times as likely to live in poverty. The state has the lowest wages and highest infant mortality rates and poverty in the country....

And last night Ben Chaney, the brother of one of the victims, James Chaney, a black Mississippian, thanked "the white people who walked up to me and said things are changing. I think there's hope."

In the 40 years since he killed the three young civil rights workers, Edgar Ray Killen has remained unrepentant. He told the New York Times six years ago the ex-Klansman branded his victims "communists" who were threatening Mississippi's way of life. "I'm sorry they got themselves killed" was all the remorse he could muster.

That way of life denied black people the vote, kept races separate and unequal and that's how he liked it.

Both reclusive and notorious, he ran a sawmill and lived with his wife in a small house with a tablet displaying the Ten Commandments on his lawn.

Until the trial opened last week he denied he had any involvement in the Klan, although those in the town said his involvement was always an open secret. "Killen was one of those rednecks," says 89-year-old Buford Posey. "I know ... I was one of those rednecks."

Investigators always insisted he was the leader of the mob that night.

Howard Ball, a civil rights worker who wrote Murder in Mississippi: United States v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights, described the preacher as "the mastermind".

"He got the gloves, he got the backhoe operator, he was able to work with (a local landowner) to get the site of the burial," Ball told the Los Angeles Times. "If there is one person, it should be him."

One day short of the 52nd anniversary of the disappearance of three civil rights workers during Mississippi’s “Freedom Summer,” state and federal prosecutors have said that the investigation into the killings is over.

The decision “closes a chapter” in the state’s divisive civil rights history, Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood said.

“The evidence has been degraded by memory over time, and so there are no individuals that are living now that we can make a case on at this point,” Hood said.

He said, however, that if new information comes forward because of the announcement that the case is closed, prosecutors could reconsider and pursue a case.

The 1964 killings of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County sparked national outrage and helped spur passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They later became the subject of the film “Mississippi Burning.”

On Monday, their relatives said the focus should not be only on the three men, but on all the people killed or hurt while seeking justice.

“The civil rights period was not about just those three young men,” said the reverend Julia Chaney Moss, Chaney’s sister. “It was about all of the lives.”


James Earl Chaney - History

(May 30, 1943 - June 21, 1964)

James Chaney was born May 30, 1943 in Meridian, Mississippi to Ben and Fannie Lee Chaney. In 1963, he joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1964, CORE led a massive voter registration and desegregation campaign in Mississippi called Freedom Summer. As part of the Freedom Summer activities, Chaney was riding with two white activists in Mississippi when they were attacked and killed by the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964.

On January 7 , 2005 Edgar Ray Killen , once an outspoken white supremacist nicknamed the "Preacher," pleaded " Not Guilty " to Chaney's murder, but was found guilty of manslaughter on June 20 , 2005 , and sentenced to sixty years in prison.

Chaney was twenty-one when he died on Rock Cut Road. Chaney had begun volunteer work at the new CORE office in Meridian in October, 1963, after a girlfriend introduced Chaney to Matt Suarez, the office's first director. Chaney soon became Suarez's chief aide, guide, and companion. His work ranged from constructing bookshelves at the community center to traveling to rural counties to set up meetings. Chaney, being black, was able to go places white CORE members were afraid to go. To Mississippi whites, Chaney was "as inconspicuous as an alley cat." When the Schwerners arrived in January to assume direction of the Meridian office, they found Chaney to be their most willing volunteer.

Chaney was a native of Meridian and the eldest son in a family of five children. His mother, a domestic servant, was protective his father, a plasterer, left his mother when James was in his mid-teens. He was slightly built, but athletic. He was described as shy in public, but a cutup in his home.

Chaney first encountered problems at the Catholic school for Negroes he attended in 1959, when he was sixteen. Chaney was suspended for a week when he refused to remove a yellow paper NAACP "button." The next year he was expelled from school for fighting. Chaney tried to join the army, but his asthma resulted in a 4-F disqualification. Unemployed and restless, Chaney joined the Negro plasterer's union, where he apprenticed with his father. His work as a plasterer ended in 1963 after a fight with his father.


Remembering James Earl Chaney

Earlier today on Twitter, a Black Catholic priest commemorated the Freedom Summer murders.

Today I remember the lives of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. James Chaney was Catholic. Goodman & Schwerner were Jewish. All 3 died helping others - all three witnessed the power and love of God. pic.twitter.com/raify493Hq

&mdash Fr. Bruce Wilkinson (@PadreInAtlanta) December 5, 2020

You'll notice a fact there that is perhaps not highlighted very often, concerning religion.

While Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner are often noted for their Judaism (and Whiteness)—understandable, given the circumstances of their deaths—what's often left out is the Catholic background of James Earl Chaney, the lone Black member of the group.

Articles abound that make mention of his Catholic schooling in passing—with particular reference to its segregated nature—but Chaney was also a convert, an altar boy, and devout.

From an obscure 1963 piece published in Ramparts magazine by the late Louis E. Lomax, this quote sums of most of what we know about the faith of Chaney—with his mother noting that as he became more involved in activism during high school and met Schwerner, he drifted away from the Church.

This can hardly come as much of a surprise, as he and some of his classmates had been suspended five years prior by their Catholic principal for the offense of wearing NAACP badges.

Though at least one source claims the nonviolence activist was later expelled for "fighting", the Los Angeles Times (and Chaney's sister) report it was for continuing to publicly support the NAACP at school.

The 1963 piece, in the hagiographical style somewhat common in Civil Rights historiography, merely claims Chaney "left school and devoted all of his time to the civil rights struggle".

In fact, Chaney unsuccessfully attempted to join the military, before abortively taking up his father's plastering trade—a venture allegedly derailed by another fight, this time with the man who had left his mother around the time of James' run-in with parochial White Catholic racism.

Only then did Chaney have so much time to devote to the cause of freedom. Time he used quite well, galvanizing a movement both in his life and afterlife.

By modern standards, Chaney died during childhood. The same age many of us were still depending on our parents for support while finishing college, and learning how to navigate a bar.

The same age Fred Hampton, another Catholic-influenced Black activist, would die 5 years after Chaney—on December 4th no less, assassinated by the government. Chaney and his Jewish allies would also die at the hands of the state—but also the Church.

In the same way that it's important to see Chaney as a real, struggling, human being with flaws and a story, it seems equally important to see him as a Black Meridian deeply connected to the Catholic faith—whatever amount of it may have been left within him at the time of his death.

Catholics—Black and White, devout and lapsed—are often characterized as sitting aloof throughout much of the Black Freedom Movement, but this is demonstrably untrue.

And while the faith of most Civil Rights activists is openly championed, the Catholicism of Chaney was not even to be found on his Wikipedia page.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student w/ the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).


Case Files for 1964 Lynchings of Civil Rights Activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Made Public for the First Time

I was a teenager the first time I saw the movie Mississippi Burning , and despite knowing even at that young age America’s capacity for hate and racism, I remember thinking: “Nah, that can’t be real.”

But the 1988 film was indeed loosely based on a real event that involved the lynchings of three civil rights activists in 1964 in Philadelphia, Mis s.—killings that were reportedly committed by the Ku Klux Klan and sanctioned by a local deputy sheriff. Now, case files, photographs and other records related to the investigation into the violent and hateful crimes have been made available for public viewing for the first time.

Politico reports that the records detailing the investigation into the deaths of Freedom Summer activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County were made public at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson after being sealed for decades and after being transferred from the state attorney general’s office to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2019.

The records include case files, Federal Bureau of Investigation memoranda, research notes and federal informant reports and witness testimonies. There are also photographs of the exhumation of the victims’ bodies and subsequent autopsies, along with aerial photographs of the burial site, according to an announcement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The collection is being stored in three catalog records: Series 2870 houses the attorney general’s research files, Series 2902 houses the FBI memos and Series 2903 houses the photographs.

The three Freedom Summer workers, all in their 20s, had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi when they disappeared in June of 1964.

A deputy sheriff in Philadelphia had arrested them on a traffic charge, then released them after alerting a mob. Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax, and segregationist Sen. Jim Eastland told President Lyndon Johnson it was a “publicity stunt” before their bodies were dug up, found weeks later in an earthen dam.

Out of 19 white men who were indicted for the killings, only seven were convicted of violating the victims’ civil rights (but not murder?) and none of them ever served more than six years in prison. It wasn’t until 2004 that the state attorney general’s office reopened the case, which led to Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen—who died in prison in 2018—being convicted on manslaughter charges.

Side note: If I wanted to be petty, I’d point out how this case is a perfect example of why Critical Race Theory—an academic study that focuses in part on how race affects law and law enforcement—should be taught to students and the fact that conservatives’ obsession with banning CRT has nothing to do with indoctrination and everything to do with sweeping and burying American stories like these deep under the proverbial rug.

The story of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner is just one of many that should be well-documented and made available for everyone to see. That America is still this America and true progress depends on us being honest about what we’re progressing from.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons


The KKK kills three civil rights activists

Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney are killed by a Ku Klux Klan mob near Meridian, Mississippi. The three young civil rights workers were working to register Black voters in Mississippi, thus inspiring the ire of the local Klan. The deaths of Schwerner and Goodman, white Northerners and members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), caused a national outrage.

When the desegregation movement encountered resistance in the early 1960s, CORE set up an interracial team to ride buses into the Deep South to help protest. These so-called Freedom Riders were viciously attacked in May 1961 when the first two buses arrived in Alabama. One bus was firebombed the other boarded by KKK members who beat the activists inside. The Alabama police provided no protection.

Still, the Freedom Riders were not dissuaded and they continued to come into Alabama and Mississippi. Michael Schwerner was a particularly dedicated activist who lived in Mississippi while he assisted Black people to vote. Sam Bowers, the local Klan’s Imperial Wizard, decided that Schwerner was a bad influence, and had to be killed.

When Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, a young Black man, were coming back from a trip to Philadelphia, Mississippi, deputy sheriff Cecil Price, who was also a Klan member, pulled them over for speeding. He then held them in custody while other KKK members prepared for their murder. Eventually released, the three activists were later chased down in their car and cornered in a secluded spot in the woods where they were shot and then buried in graves that had been prepared in advance.

When news of their disappearance got out, the FBI converged on Mississippi to investigate. With the help of an informant, agents learned about the Klan’s involvement and found the bodies. Since Mississippi refused to prosecute the assailants in state court, the federal government charged 18 men with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney.

Bowers, Price, and five other men were convicted eight were acquitted and the all-white jury deadlocked on the other three defendants. On the forty-first anniversary of the three murders, June 21, 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter. The 80-year-old Killen, known as an outspoken white supremacist and part-time Baptist minister, was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He died in 2018. 


Case Files for 1964 Lynchings of Civil Rights Activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Made Public for the First Time

Holding signs with images of murdered Mississippi civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, demonstrators rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court February 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Leaders from Congress joined civil rights icons to rally as the court prepared to hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a legal challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Case Files for 1964 Lynchings of Civil Rights Activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Made Public for the First Time ​

These are the kinds of American stories a certain political party would rather history just forget. This one isn't even 60 years old.

I was a teenager the first time I saw the movie Mississippi Burning, and despite knowing even at that young age America’s capacity for hate and racism, I remember thinking: “Nah, that can’t be real.”

But the 1988 film was indeed loosely based on a real event that involved the lynchings of three civil rights activists in 1964 in Philadelphia, Miss.—killings that were reportedly committed by the Ku Klux Klan and sanctioned by a local deputy sheriff. Now, case files, photographs and other records related to the investigation into the violent and hateful crimes have been made available for public viewing for the first time.

Politico reports that the records detailing the investigation into the deaths of Freedom Summer activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County were made public at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson after being sealed for decades and after being transferred from the state attorney general’s office to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2019.

The records include case files, Federal Bureau of Investigation memoranda, research notes and federal informant reports and witness testimonies. There are also photographs of the exhumation of the victims’ bodies and subsequent autopsies, along with aerial photographs of the burial site, according to an announcement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The collection is being stored in three catalog records: Series 2870 houses the attorney general’s research files, Series 2902 houses the FBI memos and Series 2903 houses the photographs.

The three Freedom Summer workers, all in their 20s, had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi when they disappeared in June of 1964.

A deputy sheriff in Philadelphia had arrested them on a traffic charge, then released them after alerting a mob. Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax, and segregationist Sen. Jim Eastland told President Lyndon Johnson it was a “publicity stunt” before their bodies were dug up, found weeks later in an earthen dam.

Out of 19 white men who were indicted for the killings, only seven were convicted of violating the victims’ civil rights (but not murder?) and none of them ever served more than six years in prison. It wasn’t until 2004 that the state attorney general’s office reopened the case, which led to Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen—who died in prison in 2018—being convicted on manslaughter charges.

Side note: If I wanted to be petty, I’d point out how this case is a perfect example of why Critical Race Theory—an academic study that focuses in part on how race affects law and law enforcement—should be taught to students and the fact that conservatives’ obsession with banning CRT has nothing to do with indoctrination and everything to do with sweeping and burying American stories like these deep under the proverbial rug.

The story of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner is just one of many that should be well-documented and made available for everyone to see. That America is still this America and true progress depends on us being honest about what we’re progressing from.

Case Files for 1964 Lynchings of Civil Rights Activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Made Public for the First Time

www.theroot.com

American Experience

Missing poster. Credit: FBI

On June 21, 1964, three young men disappeared near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Michael (Mickey) Schwerner and James Chaney worked for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in nearby Meridian Andrew Goodman was one of the hundreds of college students from across the country who volunteered to work on voter registration, education, and Civil Rights as part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. The three men believed their work was necessary, but also dangerous: Ku Klux Klan membership in Mississippi was soaring in 1964 -- with membership reaching more than 10,000. The Klan was prepared to use violence to fight the Civil Rights movement on April 24 the group offered a demonstration of its power, staging 61 simultaneous cross burnings throughout the state.

Mickey Schwerner. Credit: Edward Hollander

Over the course of the summer of 1964, members of the Klan burned 20 black Mississippi churches. On June 16, Klan members targeted Neshoba County's Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where Schwerner had spent time working. Before burning the church, the Klan severely beat several people who had been attending a meeting there. Schwerner, however, was not there that day he had gone to Oxford, Ohio, to train a group of Freedom Summer volunteers. Upon returning to Mississippi, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney visited the charred remains of Mt. Zion. On the drive back to Meridian, their station wagon, known to law enforcement as a CORE vehicle, was stopped, and police arrested all three. Chaney, who had been driving, was charged with speeding, while Schwerner and Goodman were held for investigation. Neshoba County sheriff’s deputy Cecil Price escorted them to the Philadelphia jail around 4pm.

Andrew Goodman. Credit: Norris McNamara

Despite the fact that the schedule of fines for speeding was posted on the wall, Price said the three men would have to remain in jail until the Justice of the Peace arrived to process the fine. Schwerner asked to make a phone call, but Price denied the request and left the jail. In Meridian, CORE staff began calling nearby jails and police stations, inquiring about the three men -- their standard procedure when organizers failed to return on time. Minnie Herring, the jailer’s wife, claimed there was no phone call on June 21, but CORE records show a call to the Philadelphia jail around 5:30pm.

James Chaney. Credit: FBI

Price returned a little after 10pm, collected Chaney’s speeding fine -- with no Justice of the Peace -- and told the three men to get out of the county. They were never seen alive again.

In 1964, Mississippi was the only state without a central FBI office, but on June 22, agents from the New Orleans office arrived to begin a kidnapping investigation. (Since passing in 1932, the “Lindbergh law” brought kidnapping cases under federal jurisdiction.) More agents would come to Mississippi over the next several days, ultimately totaling more than 200.

CORE station wagon. Credit: FBI

On June 23 investigators found the CORE station wagon, still smoldering from an attempt to destroy evidence now the focus shifted from rescue to recovery of the men’s bodies.

The case was drawing national attention, in part because Schwerner and Goodman were both white Northerners. Mickey Schwerner's wife Rita, who was also a CORE worker, tried to convert that attention to the overlooked victims of racial violence. “The slaying of a Negro in Mississippi is not news. It is only because my husband and Andrew Goodman were white that the national alarm has been sounded,” she told reporters during the search.

Rita Schwerner. Credit: Steve Shapiro

Throughout July, investigators combed the woods, fields, swamps, and rivers of Mississippi, ultimately finding the remains of eight African American men. Two were identified as Henry Dee and Charles Moore, college students who had been kidnapped, beaten, and murdered in May 1964. Another corpse was wearing a CORE t-shirt. Even less information was recorded about the five other bodies discovered.

Finally, after six weeks of searching, a tip from an informant -- later identified as Mississippi Highway Patrol officer Maynard King -- sent investigators to an earthen dam on the Old Jolly

Farm outside Philadelphia. It was there that the FBI uncovered the bodies of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman on August 4.

The buried bodies. Credit: FBI

Throughout the fall of 1964, the FBI continued investigating the case. State and local law enforcement did not pursue it, claiming insufficient evidence. Because murder was a crime covered by state law, the federal government could not bring charges. Instead, on December 4, the Justice Department charged 21 men with conspiring to violate Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman’s civil rights.

Prosecutors brought the charges before a federal grand jury, which indicted 18 men in January 1965. The following month, presiding judge William Harold Cox dismissed the charges against the majority of the defendants, maintaining that the law applied only to law enforcement -- in this case, deputy sheriff Price, the county sheriff, and a patrolman. The prosecution appealed, and in 1966 the Supreme Court reinstated the charges, ruling that the law applied to both law enforcement officials and civilians.

Cecil Price. Credit: FBI

In February 1967 another federal grand jury indicted the men once again, and in October the trial began in Judge Cox’s courtroom. Cox was known as a segregationist -- he had been the subject of an unsuccessful impeachment attempt after describing African American witnesses in an earlier case as “chimpanzees.” But on the first day of the trial, when the defense attorney asked a witness whether Schwerner was part of a plot to rape white women during the summer of 1964, Cox called the question improper, stating, “I’m not going to allow a farce to be made of this trial."

Prosecutor John Doar later called Cox’s response to the rape question a turning point in the fight for justice. “If there had been any feeling in the courtroom that the defendants were invulnerable to conviction in Mississippi, this incident dispelled it completely," Doar said afterwards. "Cox made it clear he was taking the trial seriously. That made the jurors stop and think: ‘If Judge Cox is taking this stand, we’d better meet our responsibility as well.'"

As the trial proceeded, the prosecution read the 1964 confessions of Horace Doyle Barnette and James Jordan, which described what happened on the night of June 21: After leaving Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman in the Philadelphia jail, Cecil Price contacted Edgar Ray Killen, one of the leaders of the local Ku Klux Klan, who was also a Baptist minister. Killen directed Klan members to gather in Philadelphia that evening. When two cars filled with Klansmen headed for the outskirts of Philadelphia, Price released the Civil Rights workers from jail and ordered them to head back to Meridian. He then joined the pursuit of the CORE station wagon.

Edgar Ray Killen. Credit: FBI

Catching up with the three Civil Rights workers on Highway 19, the Klansmen forced the men into their cars and drove all the vehicles to Rock Cut Road, a nearby side street. There, James Jordan shot Chaney, and Wayne Roberts shot Schwerner and Goodman. The killers loaded the bodies into the CORE station wagon and drove them to the Old Jolly Farm, where they used a bulldozer to bury the bodies in the earthen dam.

The jury found seven of the defendants guilty: Price, Barnette, Roberts, James Arledge, Billy Wayne Posey, James Snowden, and Samuel Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of Mississippi’s White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. (Bowers had a particular antipathy toward Schwerner, and had begun planning his murder in the spring of 1964.) In three cases, the jury failed to reach a verdict one juror refused to convict a minister, and Killen walked free. After unsuccessful appeals, the convicted men entered prison early in 1970. Each had received a sentence of between three and 10 years, but ultimately none would serve more than six years behind bars.

Samuel Bowers. Credit: FBI

In 1998, Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, published excerpts from a 1984 interview with Samuel Bowers in which he spoke openly about the killings. “I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man, which everybody -- including the trial judge and the prosecutors and everybody else knows that that happened,” Bowers said. Mitchell’s reporting established that Bowers was referring to Killen. (The interview, which is now available to the public, was part of an oral history project to be held by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and sealed until Bowers’ death. Mitchell, whose work on unsolved cases of the Civil Rights era earned him a 2009 MacArthur fellowship, never revealed how he got access to the interview.)

In 1999, Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore announced that the state would reopen the case. At his request, the FBI turned over more than 40,000 pages related to the initial investigation. In January 2005, a grand jury charged Edgar Ray Killen with murder. Although several of the other conspirators were still alive at the time, the grand jury did not find sufficient evidence to indict anyone else. The trial drew national news coverage members of the victims’ families were present at the trial, some as witnesses and some as observers. Ultimately, the jury found insufficient evidence for a murder conviction, but did find Killen guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.


Today would have been James Earl Chaney’s 78th birthday. Why it matters!

Today, May 30, 2021 would have been James Earl Chaney’s 78th birthday. But James Earl Chaney (May 30, 1943 – June 21, 1964) was one of three Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) field/social workers killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The others were Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York City. The murder, just three days after the largest mass arrest of Rabbis in U.S. History that took place here in St. Augustine, Florida was an important example of the cooperation of Jews and African-Americans in their quest to achieve the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The arrested Rabbis here in St. Augustine, Florida at the request of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared in the vision, not that Jews could work with African Americans seeking equal justice under the law, but that Jews SHOULD work, MUST work with African Americans seeking equal justice under the law.

James Chaney was born the eldest son of Fannie Lee and Ben Chaney, Sr. His brother Ben was nine years younger, born in 1952. He also had three sisters, Barbara, Janice, and Julia. His parents separated for a time when James was young.

James attended Catholic school for the first nine grades, and was a member of St Joseph Catholic Church.

At the age of 15 as a high school student, he and some of his classmates began wearing paper badges reading “NAACP”, to mark their support for the national civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909. They were suspended for a week from the segregated high school, because the principal feared the reaction of the all-white school board.

After high school, Chaney started as a plasterer’s apprentice in a trade union.

In 1962, Chaney participated in a Freedom Ride from Tennessee to Greenville, Mississippi, and in another from Greenville to Meridian. He and his younger brother participated in other non-violent demonstrations, as well. James Chaney started volunteering in late 1963, and joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Meridian. He organized voter education classes, introduced CORE workers to local church leaders, and helped CORE workers get around the counties.

In 1964, he met with leaders of the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church to gain their support for letting Michael Schwerner, CORE’s local leader, come to address the church members, to encourage them to use the church for voter education and registration. Chaney also acted as a liaison with other CORE members.

A model of partnership between Jews and African-Americans in the quest of Civil Rights.

In June 1964, Chaney and fellow civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were killed near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were investigating the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which had been a site for a CORE Freedom School. In the wake of Schwerner and Chaney’s voter registration rallies, parishioners had been beaten by whites. They accused the sheriff’s deputy, Cecil Price, of stopping their caravan and forcing the deacons to kneel in the headlights of their own cars, while white men beat them with rifle butts. The same whites who beat them were also identified as having burned the church.

Price arrested Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner for an alleged traffic violation and took them to the Neshoba County jail. They were released that evening, without being allowed to telephone anyone. On the way back to Meridian, they were stopped by patrol lights and two carloads of Ku Kux Klan members on Highway 19, then taken in Price’s car to another remote rural road. The men approached then shot and killed Schwerner, then Goodman, both with one shot in the heart and finally Chaney with three shots, after severely beating him. They buried the young men in an earthen dam nearby.

The men’s bodies remained undiscovered for 44 days. The FBI was brought into the case by John Doar, the Department of Justice representative in Mississippi monitoring the situation during Freedom Summer. The missing civil rights workers became a major national story, especially coming on top of other events as civil rights workers were active across Mississippi in a voter registration drive.

Schwerner’s widow Rita, who also worked for CORE in Meridian, expressed indignation that the press had ignored previous murders and disappearances of blacks in the area, but had highlighted this case because two white men from New York had gone missing. She said she believed that if only Chaney were missing, the case would not have received nearly as much attention.

After the funeral of their older son, the Chaneys left Mississippi because of death threats. Helped by the Goodman and Schwerner families, and other supporters, they moved to New York City, where Chaney’s younger brother Ben attended a private, majority-white high school.

In 1969, Ben joined the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. In 1970, he went to Florida with two friends to buy guns the two friends killed three white men in South Carolina and Florida, and Chaney was also convicted of murder in Florida. Chaney served 13 years and, after gaining parole, founded the James Earl Chaney Foundation in his brother’s honor. Since 1985, he has worked “as a legal clerk for the former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the lawyer who secured his parole”

In 1967, the US government went to trial, charging ten men with conspiracy to deprive the three murdered men of their civil rights under the Enforcement Act of 1870, the only federal law then applying to the case. The jury convicted seven men, including Deputy Sheriff Price, and three were acquitted, including Edgar Ray Killen, the former Ku Klux Klan organizer who had planned and directed the murders.

Over the years, activists had called for the state to prosecute the murderers. The journalist Jerry Mitchell, an award-winning investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, had discovered new evidence and written extensively about the case for six years. Mitchell had earned renown for helping secure convictions in several other high-profile Civil Rights Era murder cases, including the assassination of Medgar Evers, the Birmingham church bombing, and the murder of Vernon Dahmer. He developed new evidence about the civil rights murders, found new witnesses, and pressured the State to prosecute. It began an investigation in the early years of the 2000s.


Marker near 70th Street/Freedom Place near Riverside Boulevard in New York City commemorating the three civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in 1964

In 2004, Barry Bradford, an Illinois high school teacher, and his three students, Allison Nichols, Sarah Siegel, and Brittany Saltiel, joined Mitchell’s efforts in a special project. They conducted additional research and created a documentary about their work. Their documentary, produced for the National History Day contest, presented important new evidence and compelling reasons for reopening the case. They obtained a taped interview with Edgar Ray Killen, who had been acquitted in the first trial. He had been an outspoken white supremacist nicknamed the “Preacher”. The interview helped convince the State to reopen an investigation into the murders.

In 2005, the state charged Killen in the murders of the three activists he was the only one of six living suspects to be charged.[1] When the trial opened on January 7, 2005, Killen pleaded “Not guilty”. Evidence was presented that he had supervised the murders. Not sure that Killen intended in advance for the activists to be killed by the Klan, the jury found him guilty of three counts of manslaughter on June 20, 2005, and he was sentenced to 60 years in prison—20 years for each count, to be served consecutively.

Believing there are other men involved in his brother’s death who should be charged as accomplices to murder, as Killen was, Ben Chaney has said: “I’m not as sad as I was. But I’m still angry”.


Michael Henry Schwerner, James Earl Chaney, and Andrew Goodman

Civil rights workers Michael Henry Schwerner, James Earl Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were killed by a mob of Klansmen in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on June 21, 1964. Less than one month prior to their deaths, on Memorial Day, Schwerner, a target for "elimination" by members of the local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) due to his work for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in and around Meridian, MS, and Chaney, a Meridian native and Schwerner's chief aide, arranged to set up a Freedom School at Mount Zion Church in Longdale. A few weeks later, on the night of June 16, Klansmen beat church members and burned Mount Zion following a church business meeting at which the Klansmen were hoping to find Schwerner. However, Schwerner and Chaney were in Ohio at the time attending a conference to train workers who would implement Freedom Summer initiatives in various states. Upon learning of the Klan attack at Mount Zion, Schwerner and Chaney headed back to Mississippi along with Goodman, a young volunteer Schwerner had met in Ohio and recruited to help with the Freedom Summer efforts in Meridian and the surrounding communities (Congress of Racial Equality, n.d.).

When they arrived in Mississippi, the three civil rights workers visited the remains of Mount Zion Church and interviewed some of the church members to learn more about the KKK attack. Following these visits, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were arrested by Neshoba County Deputy Sherriff Cecil Price as they were traveling back to the CORE office in Meridian on the afternoon of June 21. Price, a member of the local Klan, allegedly held the three civil rights workers for their possible connection to the arson of Mount Zion Church. While the three men were held at the county jail in Philadelphia, Price contacted Edgar Ray Killen, the local Klan recruiter, presumably to formulate a plan to kill the prisoners later that night (Linder, n.d.).

Just after 10:00 PM, the plot to murder Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman was set in motion when Price returned to the jail and told the jailer to release the three men. As Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman once again tried to drive back to Meridian, they were chased down by Price and two carloads of Klansmen. The Klansmen drove the three civil rights workers to a remote location where, according to the testimony of two informants who were present as members of the mob, Schwerner and Goodman were executed at close range by shots fired by Klansman Wayne Roberts (Linder, n.d.). Chaney, on the other hand, was beaten and tortured by the mob before he was killed (Dickoff & Pagano, 2012). The murdered bodies of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were buried in a dam on the land of another Klansman (Congress of Racial Equality, n.d.).

Following an extensive investigation by local and federal officials that revealed telling details of and participants in the murders, Mississippi officials refused to file state murder charges against any of the Klansmen. This was not surprising given the social climate in Mississippi at the time state officials had claimed the disappearance of the three men was a hoax until the bodies were found ("Lyndon Johnson", 2012). Finally, in 1967, three years after the murders, federal charges were filed against 18 men for violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman. There was no federal murder statute under which to prosecute the defendants, so the charge of depriving the three young men of their civil rights was the only option available to federal prosecutors. In what has come to be known as the "Mississippi Burning Trial," an all-white jury found seven of the defendants guilty, including Deputy Price, Wayne Roberts, and KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who had ordered Schwerner's "elimination" the month prior to the murders. However, the jury acquitted seven other men and could not reach a decision in the case of three of the defendants, including Killen. Additionally, the charges against one defendant were dropped. In pronouncing sentencing, which ranged from three to ten years, although none of those convicted would spend more than six years in jail, the trial judge, who was a known segregationist, said, "They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved" (Linder, n.d.).

The investigation into the deaths of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, the unwillingness of the state of Mississippi to file murder charges against any of the suspects, and the subsequent federal trial drew national attention to the civil rights battle in Mississippi and throughout the country. Additionally, the manner in which this case was handled plagued citizens of Mississippi for decades, especially those living in Neshoba County who continued to be haunted by the memories of the murders long after the trial ended (Dickoff & Pagano, 2012). As a small measure of atonement, in 2005, over 40 years after the murders, Edgar Ray Killen was charged, tried, convicted of three counts of manslaughter, and sentenced to three 20-year sentences for his role in the murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman (Dewan, 2005). Killen will likely be the only Klansmen to ever stand trial for the murders as the final living suspects pass away, but the impact of the heinous crime committed by the Klan mob in 1964 will continue to live on.


People, Locations, Episodes

On this date, we mark the birth of James Chaney, a Black civil rights activist, in 1943.

He was born in Meridian, MS, the son of Ben and Fannie Lee Chaney. His parents instilled a strong and resilient sense of racial pride in him at an early age. In 1959, he and a group of friends were suspended from high school for wearing buttons criticizing the local chapter of the NAACP for its unresponsiveness to racial issues. Chaney was expelled a year later for a similar incident and went to work with his father as a plasterer.

Ironically, it was during this time that his travels to different jobs on segregated buses throughout the segregated south exposed him to the Freedom Rides. The Freedom Rides were mounted to reverse segregation in these areas, and his experience further spurred his activism. In 1963, Chaney joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). One year later, he joined his home state’s branch of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the NAACP to form the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) to launch a massive voter registration and desegregation campaign in Mississippi.

The state was hostile to integration and civil rights activism, and the state paid spies to compile lists of citizens suspected of any kind of involvement. They also tracked all northerners who entered the state to work on civil rights. The Ku Klux Klan was firmly rooted in this part of the state.

During Freedom Summer in 1964, Chaney worked with an interracial team, including New Yorkers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, to organize a community center in Meridian and to register African Americans for voting. On June 21, 1964, with two Jewish associates, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman working with the CORE Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, the three set out to investigate a church bombing in Longdale, MS, a potential site for a Freedom School teaching literacy and voter education. As the three of them were driving back to Meridian, police in Philadelphia, MS, detained them. Chaney was arrested for speeding and Schwerner and Goodman were arrested as suspects in the church bombing. No phone calls were allowed nor were any of them allowed to pay the fines.

The FBI recovered the bodies of the murdered men from an earthen dam on August 4. Three years later, two men convicted of the murders were sentenced to ten years, and three others convicted of conspiracy to six years. Despite confessions and eyewitness accounts, all were paroled before serving their full-term and most returned to Mississippi by the mid-1970s.

But a journalist, Jerry Mitchell had written extensively about the case. With a schoolteacher, Barry Bradford, and a few of his students, new evidence was developed, new witnesses were found, and the State was pressured to take action. A new trial was called. When the trial opened on January 7, 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, once an outspoken white supremacist nicknamed the "Preacher," pleaded "Not Guilty" to Chaney's murder. Fannie Lee Chaney and Carolyn Goodman, mothers of two of the civil rights workers, were the last witnesses for the prosecution. The jury found Killen guilty of manslaughter on June 20, 2005, and he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Reference:
Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement
By Danny Lyon
Copyright 1992, University of North Carolina Press
ISBN 0-80782054-7