Three civil rights workers are murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan (June 21, 1964) - History Key

Three civil rights workers are murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan (June 21, 1964)

This day in history, on June 21, 1964, three civil rights activists, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner are murdered in Neshoba County (Mississippi) by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The culprits were found guilty only for violating civil rights, but none of them were convicted of murder. This particular case was the base of the “Mississippi burning”.

Missing persons poster created by the FBI in 1964. Shows the photographs of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner
Missing persons poster created by the FBI in 1964. Shows the photographs of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner © Image Source: Wikipedia

The returned death soldiers

The loss of the American Civil War by the Confederates and the freedom from slavery represented for most of the southern whites a profound mental retreat, a fear of losing identity. Living at the edge of poverty, many white people from south relied for centuries on the slave labor. However, the South part of the United States remained the “White Man Country” after the American Civil War.

Ku Klux Klan was founded between December 1865 and August 1866 by six former officers of the Confederate army in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a racist secret society. In short time, the secret society spread across all the states of the South, becoming the main “weapon” of the conservatives.

The Ku Klux Klan had sinister rituals and secret signs of recognition, whose members wore a sort of white robes and coats, according to the medieval monastic order. The clan members’ clothing represented the ghosts of the Confederate soldiers that died in the American Civil War and now came back for revenge. Their terrorist techniques were based on torture, violence, robbery and assassination and their victims were most of the times African-Americans. Unfortunately, after many controversial disputes between the Ku Klux Klan and the society or the authorities, there was always a rebirth of the clan.

Cross burning was introduced by William J. Simmons, the founder of the second Klan in 1915
Cross burning was introduced by William J. Simmons, the founder of the second Klan in 1915 © Denver News – The Library of Congress/ Image Source: Wikipedia

Freedom!

In 1962 only 6.7% of the African-Americans from Mississippi voted. It was the lowest percentage in the US. Therefore in 30 cities from Mississippi have been set up the so-called “Freedom Schools”. The schools were part of an effort during the Civil Rights Movement to organize African Americans to achieve social, political and economic equality in the US.

The Freedom Schools of 1964
The Freedom Schools of 1964 © Image Source: shankerinstitute.org

Until the summer of 1964, about 3,000 people attended these schools and the experiment provided a model for future educational programs. In 1964, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were volunteers that worked on the “Freedom Summer” project, which was a project to urge the African Americans to vote in Mississippi. The two young volunteers met on the night of June 20, 1964 a black human right activist, James Chaney. The three men now went to Neshoba County to investigate a recent fire of the Mount Zion church. It was believed that the church was burned by the members of the Ku Klux Klan, because it had begun used as a “Freedom School”.

After a cross is burned in front of a freedom house, it is turned into a freedom sign
After a cross is burned in front of a freedom house, it is turned into a freedom sign © Image Source: crmvet.org

On their return, the three human rights activists were arrested and imprisoned in the Neshoba prison. In the night, Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were released, but they disappeared without a trace. When the General Prosecutor Robert Kennedy was informed about the disappearance of them, he sent Joseph Sullivan to find out what happened. The FBI agent found the bodies in a ditch on August 4, 1964, but the investigation was far from complete.

Just for depravation of human rights

On October 13, 1964, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, James Jordan, confessed to the FKI agents that he was guilty of crimes and agreed to cooperate in the investigations. Finally, 19 people were arrested and charged for violating the civil rights of the three. Among them were also the Sheriff Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey. In 1967 Judge William Cox released 17 out of 19 defendants, but the Supreme Court rejected Judge Cox’s decision and the trial began on October 1967.

Mississippi KKK Conspiracy Murders June 21 1964 Parties To The Conspiracy; 1st Row: Lawrence A. Rainey, Bernard L. Akins, Other "Otha" N. Burkes, Olen L. Burrage, Edgar R. Killen. 2nd Row: Frank J. Herndon, James T. Harris, Oliver R. Warner, Herman Tucker , Samuel H. Bowers
Mississippi KKK Conspiracy Murders June 21 1964 Parties To The Conspiracy; 1st Row: Lawrence A. Rainey, Bernard L. Akins, Other “Otha” N. Burkes, Olen L. Burrage, Edgar R. Killen. 2nd Row: Frank J. Herndon, James T. Harris, Oliver R. Warner, Herman Tucker , Samuel H. Bowers © FBI/Image Source: Wikipedia

The clearest evidence was provided by James Jordan who took part in the killings. Another man, Horace Barnett, confessed the murders, but refused to testify in court. Jordon said that Sheriff Price released the three human rights activists after 10 PM, but he detained them again on a country road. Cecil Price took Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner into a gorge, where he handed over to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Civil Right Workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner's Ford Station Wagon location near the Bogue Chitto River located in Northeastern Neshoba County, Mississippi on Highway 21
Civil Right Workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner’s Ford Station Wagon location near the Bogue Chitto River located in Northeastern Neshoba County, Mississippi on Highway 21 © FBI/Image Source: Wikipedia

Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were beaten, shot and buried in the ditch where they were found a month and a half later. On October 21, 1967 the sentence was pronounced. Six people have been found guilty for the deprivation of the civil rights and sentenced to jail for periods of 3 and 10 years. Sheriff Lawrence Rainey was acquitted. However, this didn’t stop the racists to continue their activity, which lead to the outbreaks of the black riots in over 100 American cities.

Sheriff Lawrence Rainey being escorted by two FBI agents to the federal courthouse in Meridian, Mississippi
Sheriff Lawrence Rainey being escorted by two FBI agents to the federal courthouse in Meridian, Mississippi © AP/Image Source: Wikipedia

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