By Jueseppi B.
Throughout the month Of February, TheObamaCrat™ will post a daily series called The Black History Moment Series. Each day for 28 days of this historic month you will be given the food of Black History to satisfy your hunger for knowledge.
The Murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner
The ringleader of the murders, Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted on June 21, 2005, the 41st anniversary of the crimes
by Borgna Brunner
On June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers—a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24—were murdered near Philadelphia, in Nashoba County, Mississippi. They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on trumped-up charges, imprisoned for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who beat and murdered them. It was later proven in court that a conspiracy existed between members of Neshoba County’s law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan to kill them.
The FBI arrested 18 men in October 1964, but state prosecutors refused to try the case, claiming lack of evidence. The federal government then stepped in, and the FBI arrested 18 in connection with the killings. In 1967, seven men were convicted on federal conspiracy charges and given sentences of three to ten years, but none served more than six. No one was tried on the charge or murder.
The contemptible words of the presiding federal judge, William Cox, give an indication of Mississippi’s version of justice at the time: “They killed one ni—r, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.” Another eight defendants were acquitted by their all-white juries, and another three ended in mistrials. One of those mistrials freed Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen—believed to be the ringleader—after the jury in his case was deadlocked by one member who said she couldn’t bear to convict a preacher.
On Jan. 7, 2005, four decades after the crime, Edgar Ray Killen, then 80, was charged with three counts of murder. He was accused of orchestrating the killings and assembling the mob that killed the three men. On June 21—the 41st anniversary of the murders—Killen was convicted on three counts of manslaughter, a lesser charge. He received the maximum sentence, 60 years in prison. The grand jury declined to call for the arrest of the seven other living members of the original group of 18 suspects arrested in 1967.
A major reason the case was reopened was a 1999 interview with Sam Bowers, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard convicted in 1967 of giving the order to have Michael Schwerner killed. Bowers remarked in the interview that took place more than 30 years after the crime, “I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man. Everybody, including the trial judge and the prosecutors and everybody else, knows that that happened.” Bowers claims that Killen was a central figure in the murders and organized the KKK mob that carried them out. (Bowers is currently serving a life sentence for ordering a 1966 firebombing in Hattiesburg, Miss., that killed Vernon Dahmer, a Mississippi civil rights leader—another crime that took decades to successfully prosecute).
Thank you Borgna Brunner.
Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were shot at close range on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County‘s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.
Their murders sparked national outrage and a massive federal investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation referred to this investigation as Mississippi Burning (MIBURN), and eventually found the bodies 44 days later in an earthen dam near the murder site. After the state government refused to prosecute, the federal government initially charged 18 individuals but was only able to secure convictions for seven of them, who received relatively minor sentences for their actions. However, outrage over their deaths assisted in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Mississippi Burning Trial: Civil Rights Workers Murders – Edgar Ray Killen Day 4 (2005)
Published on Aug 6, 2013
In the early 1960s Mississippi, as well as most of the South, was in total defiance of federal authority. Recent Supreme Court rulings had upset the Mississippi establishment, and white Mississippian society responded with open hostility. Bombings, murders, vandalism, and intimidation were tactics used to discourage colored Mississippians along with their Northern supporters. In 1961 Freedom Riders, who challenged institutionalized segregation, encouraged social unrest among the colored underclass. In September 1962, the University of Mississippi riots had occurred to prevent James Meredith from matriculating.
Out of the social unrest came the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a splinter group created and led by Samuel Bowers of Laurel, Mississippi. As the summer of 1964 approached, White Mississippians prepared themselves for what they perceived as an invasion from the north. Media reports exaggerated about the number of youths to set up voting registration drives. One Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) representative is quoted saying nearly 30,000 individuals would visit Mississippi during the summer.
The reports had a “jarring impact” upon white Mississippians and many responded by joining the White Knights. More belligerent than other KKK groups, the White Knights would soon command a following of nearly 10,000 White Mississippians, preparing for a conflict not seen since the American Civil War.
At the time, most colored Mississippians were denied the power of voting, a privilege of educated White Mississippians. CORE wanted to address this problem by starting voting registration drives and setting up places called Freedom Schools. Freedom schools were established to educate, encourage, and register the disenfranchised colored citizens. CORE members James Chaney and Michael Schwerner intended to set up a Freedom School for colored people in Neshoba County.
On Memorial Day in 1964, Schwerner and Chaney spoke to the congregation at Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi; their speech was about setting up a Freedom School. Schwerner implored them to register to vote, saying, “you have been slaves too long, we can help you help yourselves”. The White Knights learned of Schwerner’s voting drive in Neshoba County and soon set in motion a plot to hinder their work and ultimately destroy their efforts. The White Knights wanted to lure CORE workers to Neshoba County, so they beat the congregation members and then torched the church, burning it to the ground.
On June 21, 1964, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner met at the Meridian COFO headquarters to prepare to leave for Longdale, Mississippi, to investigate the destruction of the Mount Zion Church. Schwerner told COFO Meridian to search for them if they were not back by 4 p.m.; he said, “if we’re not back by then start trying to locate for us.”
After visiting Longdale, the three civil rights workers decided not to take the road down 491 toward Meridian. The narrow country road was not paved and littered with abandoned buildings. They decided to head west along highway 16 and made a left turn onto Highway 19 toward Meridian figuring it would be the faster route, but the route led into the interior of “bloody” Neshoba County. The day was fast approaching three in the afternoon, and they were to be in Meridian by four.
Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner’s decision would prove to be deadly. Almost simultaneously as they entered the Philadelphia city limits the CORE station wagon had a flat tire and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price turned on his dash board mounted red light.
The trio stopped near the Beacon and Main Street fork. With a long radio antenna mounted to his patrol car, Price called for officer Harry Wiggs and E. R. Poe of the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Chaney was arrested for doing 65 mph in a 35 mph zone; Goodman and Schwerner were held to be investigated. They were taken to the Neshoba County jail located on Myrtle Street which was only a block away from the courthouse.
The 4 p.m. deadline came and went with no word from the three workers. By 4:45 p.m., COFO Jackson office was notified that the trio did not return from Neshoba County. Telephone calls were made to area authorities but produced no results. Neshoba County offices were contacted but denied ever seeing the civil rights workers.
The True Story of Mississippi Burning
Published on Nov 23, 2013
Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were shot at close range on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County’s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.
By late November 1964 the FBI accused 21 Mississippi men of engineering a conspiracy to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Most of the offenders were apprehended by the FBI on December 4, 1964. The FBI detained the following individuals: B. Akin, E. Akin, Arledge, T. Barnette, Burkes, Burrage, Bowers, Harris, Herndon, Killen, Price, Rainey, Posey, Roberts, Sharpe, Snowden, Townsend, Tucker, and Warner. Two individuals who were not interviewed and photographed, H. Barnette and James Jordan, would later confess their roles during the murder.
Because Mississippi officials refused to prosecute the killers for murder, a state crime, the federal government, led by prosecutor John Doar, charged 18 individuals under 18 U.S.C. §242 and §371 with conspiring to deprive the three of their civil rights (by murder). They indicted Sheriff Rainey, Deputy Sheriff Price and 16 other men.
Those found guilty on October 20, 1967, were Cecil Price, Klan Imperial Wizard Samuel Bowers, Alton Wayne Roberts, Jimmy Snowden, Billey Wayne Posey, Horace Barnett, and Jimmy Arledge. Sentences ranged from 3 to 10 years. After exhausting their appeals, the seven began serving their sentences in March 1970. None served more than six years. Sheriff Rainey was among those acquitted. Two of the defendants, E.G. Barnett, a candidate for sheriff, and Edgar Ray Killen, a local minister, had been strongly implicated in the murders by witnesses, but the jury came to a deadlock on their charges and the Federal prosecutor decided not to retry them. On May 7, 2000, the jury revealed that in the case of Killen, they deadlocked after a lone juror stated she “could never convict a preacher”.
In 2004, on the 40th anniversary of the murders, a multi-ethnic group of citizens in Philadelphia, Mississippi, issued a call for justice. More than 1,500 people, including civil rights leaders and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, joined them to voice their desire to revisit the case.
On January 6, 2005, a Neshoba County grand jury indicted Edgar Ray Killen on three counts of murder. When the Mississippi Attorney General prosecuted the case, it was the first time the state took action against the perpetrators. Rita Bender, Michael Schwerner’s widow, testified in the trial. On June 21, 2005, a jury convicted Killen on three counts of manslaughter; he was described as the man who planned and directed the killing of the civil rights workers. Killen, then 80 years old, was sentenced to three consecutive terms of 20 years in prison. His appeal, where he claimed that no jury of his peers would have convicted him at the time on the evidence presented, was rejected by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2007.
In Case You Missed This Series….Black History Month 2014 Presents: Celebrating Black History Month; The Black History Moment Series.