NESHOBA COUNTY, Miss.–The summer of 1964 was a violent one in Mississippi. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and the whole country was destined for change that would see segregation outlawed and Mississippi was perhaps the toughest nut to crack. Of the most prominent deaths in the entire Civil Rights movement were Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney.
The three were registering African-Americans to vote, and they were killed for it:P beaten, shot and buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia.
Chaney was local. The others were from “up north”.
Sunday at 3 p.m., hundreds gathered in the rebuilt Mt. Zion Church in Neshoba County, where the registration efforts were centered in 1964. The church was burned and the three Civil Rights workers went to investigate when they were arrested, released and then ambushed by local law enforcement, who were associated with the KKK.
“James Chaney, Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, these three young men, these three young brothers, these three young citizens, they didn’t die in Vietnam,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). “They didn’t die in the Middle East, they didn’t die in Africa or Central and South America. They died right here in our own country.”
Lewis was the keynote speaker and is a Civil Rights icon, one of the few remaining figures who spoke at the March on Washington.
The church holds a memorial service each year in honor of the workers, but this year is the 50th anniversary of the killings.
Mississippi declined to prosecute on murder charges at the time and federal civil rights violations charges saw some of the key figures serve time.
It was in 2005 that Mississippi prosecuted Edgar Ray Killen, known as “The Preacher”. He was convicted in the killings and is in prison.