Murder in Mississippi

Stain glass window at Sage Chapel at Cornell University, Schwerner's Alma Mater

Stain glass window at Sage Chapel at Cornell University, Schwerner's Alma Mater

On 21 June 1964, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney traveled to the Mount Zion Methodist Church near Philadelphia in Neshoba Country, Mississippi.  Schwerner and Chaney had been there a month previously the encourage the congregation to set up a Freedom School and encourage local African-Americans to vote. While they were at an activist training camp for the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in at the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio (now Miami University), they learned the church was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan.   They  drove down to investigate.  

After witnessing the destruction and speaking to its congregation, the three activists began a drive to Meridian, a nearby town where the organization, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) had a base.  Neshoba County was considered dangerous for Civil Rights workers (even by Mississippi standards).  They had a flat and were then pulled over by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price.  The three were arrested for speeding and held for several hours but then released.  They began a drive back to Meridian.  Before they got out of the county they were pulled over by Cecil Price again.  This time he was with a lynch mob of over a dozen KKK members.  The three CORE activists were killed.  They were murdered for helping African Americans register to vote.

Schwerner and Goodman both came from a New York Jewish tradition of social activism (which also produced 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) and were among many who traveled to the South to work for greater social justice.  Andrew Goodman grew up on 86th Street on the Upper West Side and was a classmate with Paul Simon at Queens College.  Schwerner grew up in Pelham, New York in Westchester County.  He started his social activism at the 'Downtown CORE in the Lower East Side in Manhattan.  

Another activist from New York was Robert Parris Moses (not that Robert Moses).  Moses was from Harlem and graduated from Stuyvesant High School and Hamilton College and became a field secretary at the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and was later co-director of COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization for civil rights groups and based in Mississippi.  He was one of the primary organizers of the Freedom Summer project.  When the workers Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman went missing, he gathered the rest of the workers in his office told them that this was the risk they were taking they could leave.  All the workers chose to stay.

Outrage over the murder of the three workers nationwide helped galvanize opinion nationwide and helped lead to Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Historic marker of the murder location, at a small rural road called Rock Cut Road

Historic marker of the murder location, at a small rural road called Rock Cut Road