FBI arrests 21 in the killing of three civil rights workers in Mississippi
By Carl Stieren
The FBI arrested 21 white men on Dec. 4, 1964, in connection with the murders of James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The three young men were volunteers with the Mississippi Freedom Summer who were working to register black voters in Mississippi to vote.
Of those arrested, 19 were freed on a technicality. In 1967, most of the men, including Ku Klux Klan Wizard Samuel Bowers, who was accused of ordering the murders, went on trial and seven were convicted and sentenced to jail for 3 to 10 years.
Finally, in 2005, thanks to investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell and high school teacher Barry Bradford, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted on three counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 3 times 20 years in prison.
Mississippi Freedom Summer was organized by the Council Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, an umbrella group that included the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Before the voter registration and desegregation programs began, the 1,000 volunteers from the North, black and white, were trained for two weeks in voter registration and nonviolence at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. It would have been too dangerous to train them in Mississippi: they needed to know how to survive and protest non-violently before the set foot in that state.
One volunteer, a New York high school English teacher, told about her experience in Mississippi that summer on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans’ website, www.crmvet.org/info/hburg.htm :
“In August 14, 1964, after a six-week Freedom School session in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I escorted six black students: Curtis Duckworth, Gwendolyn Merritt, Carolyn and Diane Moncure, Lavon Reed, and Jimmella Stokes to the Hattiesburg Public Library; there an irate librarian denied their request for library cards and summoned the police chief who came to close the library.
“ We then went to have lunch at the Kress store, but when a waitress told us she had to serve ‘the colored, but not the whites who come in with them,’ we left. The police car that had been following us stopped; an officer got out arrested me, and took me to the Hattiesburg jail. Subsequent litigation against Kress for denying me my rights and conspiring in my arrest led to a 1970 Supreme Court decision, Adickes v. Kress, in my favor.”
Decades later, one white librarian in Mississippi said that had she known what was happening to blacks in her town, she would have joined the Freedom Summer volunteers.