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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Freedom Summer, Activists Against Racial Discrimination, Black History

James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were volunteer civil rights workers in the South to fight racial discrimination in a movement called the Mississippi Summer Project or Freedom Summer. James Chaney was a local black man who had joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1963. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were white and from New York. The three men traveled to heavily segregated Mississippi to help organize civil rights efforts in 1964 on behalf of CORE. Two months after the three were reported missing on June 21, 1964, the remains of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were found buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were each 20 years old they became CORE field workers in January 1964.  Michael Schwerner was 24 years old when he arrived in Mississippi as a CORE field worker in January 1964. Schwerner angered white supremacists after he led voting registration efforts for blacks and successfully organized a black boycott of a variety store in the city of Meridian.  Michael Schwerner had arranged Mt. Zion Methodist Church, a black church in Neshoba County, to use as a “Freedom School.” Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, Sam Bowers, ordered that Schwerner, who he referred to as “Jew-Boy” and “Goatee”, was to be killed by the KKK. Two dozen armed Klansmen descended Mt. Zion Methodist Church on the evening of June 16, 1964. Schwerner was not present at the church at the time, but the Klansmen beat several blacks who were present and then torched the church.

On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman went to investigate the burning of the church. The Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price stopped them just inside the city limits of Philadelphia, Mississippi, while they were attempting to drive back to Meridian.  Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, who was a member of the KKK, had been looking out for Schwerner and other civil rights workers. He arrested them and locked them up in the Neshoba County jail, incredulously alleging they were under suspicion for the black church arson.

During their seven hours in jail, Deputy Sheriff Price would not allow them to make a phone call. He then released them on bail. Deputy Sheriff Price escorted them out of town, then returned to Philadelphia, Mississippi to drop off another Philadelphia police officer. As soon as Deputy Sheriff Price was alone, he raced down the highway in pursuit of the civil rights workers he had just released. He caught them inside county limits and loaded them into his car. Price alerted the KKK of the capture of the three CORE workers. Two other cars pulled up filled with Klansmen after the alert, and abducted James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. The three cars drove down an unmarked dirt road called Rock Cut Road. James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were shot to death at close range. Their dead bodies were discovered on August 4, 1964, buried in an earthen dam a few miles from the Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

When the FBI had begun their investigation into the disappearance of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, their disappearance drew national attention. Federal agents found the civil rights workers’ burned station wagon. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy turned the heat up on the FBI, prompting an intensification of their search. FBI agents and federal troops searched swamps and backwoods looking for the bodies. On August 8, 1964, it was reported in the press that their autopsies were to be kept a secret.

The violence against the volunteers and staff of the Mississippi Summer Project built momentum for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by Congress. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, is a landmark civil rights and labor law in the United States which makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Johnson at the White House and enacted on July 2, 1964. Eventually, a Klansman and one of the participants in the murders, Delmar Dennis, was paid $30,000 and given immunity from prosecution for giving information about the murders. On August 4, 1964, the three men’s remains were found buried in the earthen dam. The State of Mississippi made no arrests although the murderers were identified. Charging the suspects with civil rights violations was the only way to give the federal government jurisdiction in the case.

The U.S. Justice Department finally on December 4,1964 indicted nineteen men, including Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, for violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. After three years of legal maneuvering, the U.S. Supreme Court defended the indictments. The men went on trial in Jackson, Mississippi. U.S. District Judge William Cox was a renowned segregationist who presided over the trial.

An all-white jury found seven of the men guilty, including Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and KKK Imperial Wizard Bowers, on October 27, 1967. See United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787 (1967). Nine defendants were acquitted, and the jury deadlocked on three others. This was the first time a person in Mississippi had been convicted for violence against a civil rights worker and although it was a mixed verdict, it was nevertheless regarded as a major civil rights victory.

In December 1967, the convicted men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years. None of the seven convicted men served more than six years behind bars.

After sentencing, the racist Judge Cox said, “They killed one n*****, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them what I thought they deserved.” None of the seven convicted men served more than six years in prison.

Forty-one years after the murders, Edgar Ray Killen, a white supremacist and part-time Baptist minister, was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter in this case. This was June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the three murders. Edgar Ray Killen was eighty years old and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

On June 20, 2016, the Mississippi attorney general announced that the government’s  investigation into the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman by a group of Klansmen, had come to a close.

There are thousands of unacclaimed black civil rights leaders in recent years whose works have largely gone unrecognized, such as Larry DeCosta, who had been the Executive Director of Camden Regional Services before his death. Some of these persons who fought for justice did so on a scale that did not garner media attention, yet their works led to changes in the law that made positive changes in persons’ lives. While thankfully, the works of most black leaders did not result in their deaths, the work they did improved the lives of many blacks and others.

What You Can Do

I am an aggressive and compassionate employment law attorney who is experienced in successfully representing employees who were subjected to racial harassment and retaliation in private and public employment, including clients who were subjected to extreme harassment and repeated use of the n-word by their boss. I only represent employees and never represent employers. I have been successful in obtaining six figures monetary compensation for victims of racial employment discrimination.

If you have experienced racism at work, or if you reported it and no action was taken, if you are thinking of resigning, or think you will be fired, or have been fired, it is important that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in discrimination.

If you are being subjected to workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in southern, central, western and northern NJ to meet with clients.


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