Three Mississippi civil rights workers’ were abducted and murdered Neshoba County, Mississippi on the night of June 21-22, 1964. The victims, James Earl Chaney of Meridian, Mississippi,and Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwemer of New York City, wereassociated with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its member organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They had been working with the “Freedom Summer” campaign-attempting to register African Americansin the southern states to vote-contesting over 70 years of laws and practicescomprising a systematic policy of disenfranchisement of potential black voters byseveral southern states beginning in 1890.
The three men had been arrested following a traffic stop in Meridian for speeding,and released shortly thereafter. But as they left town in their car they werefollowed by law enforcement and others. Before leaving Neshoba County their carwas pulled over, and all three were abducted, shot at close range, then transportedto an earthen dam where they were buried. Members of the local White Knights ofthe Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriffs Office and the Philadelphia,Mississippi Police Department were involved in the incident.
Initially classified and investigated as a missing persons case, the civil rights workers’ car was not found untilthree days after their disappearance, and their bodies discovered 44 days after their abduction and murder. The –disappearance and feared murders of these activists sparked national outrage and a massive federal investigationled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and filed as Mississippi Burning (MIBURN), which was used as thename of a 1988 film loosely based on the FBI investigation. After the state government refused to prosecute, theUnited States federal government charged 18 individuals with civil rights violations in 1967. Seven wereconvicted and received relatively minor sentences for their actions. “
Forty-one years after the murders took place, one perpetrator, Edgar Ray Killen, was charged by the state of Mississippi for his part in the crimes. He was convicted of three counts of manslaughter in 2005 and is serving a60 year sentence.
Outrage over the activists’ disappearances helped gain passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chaney,Goodman, and Schwerner were posthumously awarded the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom by PresidentBarack Obama.
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