The Mississippi Burning Murders In The Civil Rights History

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In the early 1960s, Afrodiasporic people residing in Mississippi continued to fight and protest for the simple right to vote and be treated equally among the white people, who at the moment were being treated more superior than the African Americans. The people of color were dying for protesting for their equality. Mississippi stood for one of its most sweeping challenge, Freedom Summer. Freedom Summer came along to bring white middle-class students from the North, all the way to Mississippi to begin working with the local African American people in Mississippi. Freedom Summer was a voter registration project aimed at registering African-Americans to vote in Mississippi. Around 1960 was the era that The White Knights were originated. The White Knights were an even more dangerous and more violent gang than the original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. CORE organized a team consisting of white and blacks to ride the buses together and proceed into the Deep South to assist in protesting against the surrounding inequality. The people who traveled on the buses were referred to as “Freedom Riders”. After the first two buses arrived in Alabama, the Freedom Riders were viciously attacked by racist bystanders. One bus was set a fire and the additional bus was rampaged by Ku Klux Klan members whom severely beat the Freedom Riders riding passenger inside the bus. The Alabama Police Department provided zero protection to the Freedom Riders and was no help in aiding the passengers. The Freedom Riders did not give up and still continued their journey into Alabama and Mississippi, despite the backlash from everyone.

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Michael Schwerner was born in New York City on November 6th. Michael attended Cornell University and soon after Michael graduated, he decided to work as a social worker in Manhattan. Schwerner had married a beautiful woman named Rita Levant in June. The following year after Rita and Michael got married, they both joined the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). In the month of January 1964, the couple became CORE field-workers in Meridian, Mississippi. They had to be ready for the upcoming Freedom Summer. A couple weeks later, Michael and Rita both left New York with each other in their Volkswagen Beetle heading to Mississippi. Schwerner was just a 24 year old white man who had traveled to Mississippi with his wife Rita expecting to make a change. Michael mentioned in his application for CORE ‘I have an emotional need to offer my services in the South.’ He also mentioned that he dreamed to spend ‘the rest of his life’ working for an integrated world. Schwerner became the very first white civil rights activist to be permanently working outside of the capital of Jackson. Michael Schwerner had only received $9.80 a week for his work at CORE, which is very little.

James Earl Chaney was born in a racially segregated and economically depressed city Meridian, Mississippi. James was the son of Ben and Fannie Lee Chaney, his parents created a strong and brilliant sense of racial pride in him while he was very young. James was quite religious, so he ended up attending St. Joseph’s Catholic School from kindergarten to his freshman year. At his school he was a devout Black Catholic. James was very active in church activities and attended church as an altar boy for Sunday Mass. He also went to Harris Jr. College High School when he became older. Him and a group of his friends were all once suspended from their high school for wearing buttons that were criticizing the chapter of the NAACP for its ignoring of the surrounding racial issues. Chaney was expelled again a year later for a similar incident involving protesting and then went to work with his father who was a plasterer. James was slight in build and severely asthmatic but that did not prevent him from participating in sports in high school. James was captain of both the football team and track team. As an adult, James Earl Chaney quickly became involved in the struggle for civil and human rights.

Andrew Goodman was a white American civil rights activist. He was an intelligent young student with a genuine heartfelt personality. Andrew had a very strong viewpoint of commitment towards social activism. His parents were both committed to social justice and equality. Andrews parents’ parents both strong supporters, also influenced Andrew to become involved in social and political activism while he was young. He grew up as the second son of three sons in a liberal household on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. After Andrew graduated from Walden, Goodman enrolled at Queens College in part because of its strong drama department. Soon, however, his longing for commitment led him away from his interest in drama and back to politics. Andrew asked for his parents’ permission to participate in Freedom Summer, and they agreed. After recieiving his parents’ approval, Goodman applied for and was accepted into the Mississippi Summer Project. Although not seeing himself as a professional reformer, Goodman knew that his life had been somewhat sheltered and thought that the experience would be educational and useful. On Andrews first day in Meridian, he wrote a letter to his parents saying, ‘I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here.’

One night the three young men were driving from Meridian to Longdale to give Mt. Zion Methodist Church a visit. The church had been bombed with fire by the Ku Klux Klan since the church was planning to be used as a Freedom School. While the three were driving they were pulled over and arrested at a traffic stop outside Philadelphia, Mississippi. They policeman claimed they were pulled over for speeding. The policeman escorted the men to the local police station and held them captive for quite a few hours. Finally, they were released from the police station and were free to travel home.The three men left town in their car, while driving they noticed they were being followed by cars, by KKK members. Before Andrew, Michael, and Andrew could leave Neshoba County, their car was blocked in by three other cars and were then ran off the road. The KKK members abducted all three men and then drove all of them to another location, and shot them at close range. Michael Schwerner was the most despised civil rights activist in Mississippi. The Ku Klux Klan and other racists hated him very much. The Klan Imperial Wizard, Sam Bowers, who viewed him as a bad influence had ordered Michael to be assassinated by his fellow klan members. James and Andrew were not apart of the assassination plan, but had to be assassinated as well since they knew too much. The three bodies were found 44 days later, buried in a red-clay dam in rural Neshoba County. In the 44 days that James and two other young civil rights workers were missing in Neshoba County, Mississippi, 12-year-old Ben Chaney was quiet and withdrawn. He kept his mother constantly in sight as she obsessively cleaned their house, weeping all the while. James’s younger brother was extremely furious with everything that had happened. After the funeral, a series of threats drove the Chaneys from Mississippi. With help from the Schwerners, Goodmans and others, they moved to New York City. Ben enrolled in a private, majority-white school and adjusted to life in the North. But by 1969 he was restless. In Harlem, he says, he was elated to see black people running their own businesses and determining their own fates. He joined the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Ben Chaney ended up buying guns with two other friends and they drove to Florida. They killed four people and Ben served 13 years, with some parole. He then started the James Earl Chaney Foundation to clean up his brother’s vandalized grave site in Meridian. Ben wanted justice for his brother and his two friends.

Justice finally came when three years after their murders, twenty-one Klansmen were arrested by the FBI, and when federal grand jury for the Southern District of Mississippi indicted nineteen members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Edgar Ray Killen, a 1960s Ku Klux Klan leader who was convicted decades later in the “Mississippi Burning” slayings of three civil rights workers, has died in prison at the age of 92, the state’s corrections department announced. Killen was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter when he died at 9 p.m. Thursday inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

James, Andrew, and Michael were committed to the belief that this country and its constitutional privileges guarantees that all of us are equal, no matter our of color, sex, or religion – we have a right to participate in our great democratic process and we all have a right to be treated fairly under the law, and there fight for justice got all three of them murdered, when no one should never have to fight for equality. Equality should be granted automatically as a human being.  

16 December 2021

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