Andrew Goodman's mother remembers/A brief history
Thursday, June 24, 2004 7:20 AM
On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered in Neshoba County.
The trio had come here to invesigate the burning of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in the Longdale community off of Mississippi 16 east.
The night the church was burned parishoners were beaten, some severely, as they left.
The murders of Michael Schwerner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20, were part of a plot hatched by the Lauderdale County unit of the Ku Klux Klan and carried out by members of the Neshoba County unit.
That Sunday afternoon June 21, 1964, Mother’s Day, as the civil rights workers drove from the church, they were stopped just east of town, arrested on trumped-up speeding charges, taken to the county jail and released later that night. A gang of men, including law enforcement officers, followed the trio and a high-speed chase ensued down Mississippi 19. The civil rights workers turned off at House and stopped. They were pulled from the car and put into other automobiles and driven a short distance north to a darkened county road and shot at point-blank range.
Their burned-out station wagon was found a few days later just off Mississippi 21 north in a swamp.
Fourty-four days after they disappeared their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam off Mississippi 21 south following one of the most extensive FBI investigations ever to that point.
The national media converged on Neshoba County during that time.
That summer Mississippians were already on edge because of heightened racial tensions brought about in part because of reports of a pending invasion by northern college students bent on changing a way of life. Mississippi was a powderkeg and the Ku Klux Klan was a lit fuse. Although the Klan was largely denounced, — this newspaper before the murders had taken a strong stance against cross burnings in the county — its influence was oppressive and evil and fear reigned in the wake of the killings.
No murder charges were ever brought, although seven individuals were tried and found guilty on federal conspiracy charges.
In 1989 about 1,000 people attended a public commemoration in Neshoba County organized by a tri-racial committee.
Then-Secretary of State Dick Molpus, a Philadelphia native, offered an apology to the families of the slain men, many of whom attended.