WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Congressional Gold Medal could go to three men who died in an effort to register black Mississippians to vote in the summer of 1964, known as “Freedom Summer”. A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Monday, if passed, would honor the men for their sacrifice.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). It is a companion bill to a bill introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in the U.S. House, which got the ball rolling.
James Chaney was a Meridian native, while Andrew Goodman and “Mickey” Schwerner came from New York. All three died in a planned attack by the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County. They were beaten and shot, their car burned, and their bodies found buried in an earthen dam on land in rural Neshoba County.
“These men paid the ultimate sacrifice to bring justice and equality to every American,” said Wicker. “Their courageous actions in the face of danger helped turn the course of history in the United States.”
“Voting is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans and it is important for us to reflect on our past and honor those who have fought to ensure every citizen has access to that basic freedom,” said Gillibrand. “James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are unsung heroes who sacrificed their lives in the fight for freedom, justice and equality for all. This recognition is long overdue and I will push to make sure that these brave souls are awarded this honor and that the Gold Medal can stand as a memorial to commemorate their lives and fearlessness.”
“Bestowing the nation’s highest civilian award upon these slain civil rights workers would signify the gratitude of a nation that today is more free and just because of their brave work and sacrifice,” said Cochran.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. It is awarded to persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
Following the award ceremony, which is being planned, the medals would go to Tougaloo College.
This is from a news release from Cochran and Wicker’s camps:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. The term refers to the campaign for registering African Americans to vote in the South during the summer of 1964. Thousands of activists travelled to Mississippi and surrounding states to bring an end to the disenfranchisement that many faced when trying to exercise their right to vote. Participants also hoped to shed light on the violence and harassment faced by Mississippi’s African American population. Churches, homes, and businesses were firebombed, in addition to arrests and beatings from mobs.
One of the most infamous acts of violence during the Freedom Summer occurred near Philadelphia, Miss., on June 21, 1964. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were arrested and questioned after a so-called traffic violation. Once released from questioning, they were not seen alive again. Six weeks later, the men’s bodies were found under a dam. The bodies were badly decomposed, but it was reported that James Chaney suffered a violent beating. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner died of gunshot wounds to the chest.
Their deaths provoked national outrage and support for the Civil Rights movement.
The three award nominees are:
- James Chaney, born May 30, 1943, in Meridian, Miss.;
- Andrew Goodman, born November 23, 1913, in New York City; and
- Michael Schwerner, born November 6, 1939, in New York City.