Updated: Aug 15, 2021
Teach Out Gathering Time
Sunday, August 15. 5:00-7:00pm PST
Sunday, August 22. 5:00-7:00pm PST
Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/98440287294
Meeting ID: 984 4028 7294
400 souls: reflecting on a community history of african america
week ten (a two week discussion)
we convene in honor of James Earl Cheney, Michael Henry Schwerner, & Andrew Goodman
civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Michael Henry Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were killed by a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on June 21, 1964.
they had arrived in Mississippi to register Black voters as part of Freedom summer. in their travels, the three civil rights workers visited the remains of a destroyed church. they interviewed some of the church members to learn more about the KKK attack that destroyed the space, Mount Zion Church.
following these visits, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were arrested by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price as they were traveling back to the CORE office in Meridian. Price, a member of the local KKK, 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 civil rights workers later that night.
just after 10:00 PM, Price returned to the jail and told the jailer to release the three men. As Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman 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. Chaney, on the other hand, was beaten and tortured by the mob before he was killed. The murdered bodies of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were buried in a dam on the land of another Klansman.
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. state officials claimed the disappearance of the three men was a hoax until the bodies were found. 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 ni**er, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved."
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.
in 2005, over 40 years after the murders, Edgar Ray Killen was charged, tried, and convicted of three counts of manslaughter. he was sentenced to three 20-year sentences for his role in the murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman. Killen will likely be the only Klansmen to ever stand trial for the murders.
we dedicate the gathering and study of this week's teach out to the work and memory of James Earl Cheney, Michael Henry Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. may they rest in power.