His whole life led to decision to be
in Miss. in 1964
Wednesday, June 23, 2004 12:17 PM
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following excerpts are from a 1989 interview Stanley Dearman, now editor and publisher emeritus of The Neshoba Democrat, conducted with Dr. Carolyn Goodman, mother of slain civil rights worker Andrew Goodman, at her apartment in New York City. The interview first appeared in the April 26, 1989, edition of The Neshoba Democrat.
His whole life led to decision to be
in Miss. in 1964
Dearman: I wanted to ask you this: For 25 years, we’ve known just the name Andrew Goodman, just a name. Tell us about Andy, what was he like.
Goodman: Well, Andy’s whole life led up to what he decided to do because he knew about his own personal background. He knew about his roots. He knew about his country. He knew that we were for democracy. He knew what our national purpose was.
But he knew the warts as well. He knew about slavery. He knew about poverty. And at the age of 15 he and a close friend who is now on our steering committee took a trip to the Kentucky mountains to see the grinding poverty there and people living in company towns.
The summer before he went to Mississippi he was working in the camp for minority children out in Jersey.
And that was in 1963 and he wanted desperately to be in Washington at the time of the Martin Luther King—you know, that whole big demonstration. And he didn’t go, because the kids were counting on him. Andy loved dramatic arts and for a while he studied that and for a while he was on the stage. So he was out there teaching dramatic arts. It’s a wonderful way to get young people, in particular, to express all their feelings and to do, you know, impromptu things.
And that weekend of the march he had scheduled before that a dramatic presentation and he didn’t want to let them down. So he never went to Washington that summer.
He was also demonstrating the spring before he went, in 1964, there was a World’s Fair here in New York. And we had already been involved in the Vietnam War, not to the extent that it escalated later, but he was anti-war.
Andy was a young man who was an athlete, he was a great ball player. He played the clarinet beautifully. And he loved, as I said, the dramatic arts. He was a person who was very well liked. He was very fair. If he happened to be in the middle of a (disagreement) and he was kind of the arbiter between the youngest and the oldest. You know what happens to the youngest, who gets the squeeze. And Andy was always there to kind of help out because he wanted everybody to have the opportunity to express themselves.
He was very much like his father, a person of many dimensions. And I remember after he died his college professor—he was at Queens College at the time—introduced herself and we got to be friends with her. She said that the year Andy was in her poetry class was the greatest year that she ever taught.
Of course, he was a handsome, well built, strong, young man whom the people in the class looked upon as something of a model because, you know, sometimes you get kids in a poetry class who can’t, you know, get involved in anything else. And he would get up and read a touching poem and sometimes the tears would come to his eyes and that made it possible for the other kids to express themselves as openly as he did.
He was really quite remarkable in his thoughtfulness. I can remember how he never forgot a birthday. How he—in his high school graduating class wrote a long, something like an epic poem, that one of his classmates read during their graduation.
And how baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers was the greatest thing in his life at that time, and how my husband was unable to go to the game and I knew nothing at all about baseball.
So I took him out to Ebbets Field one spring evening. He must have been about 13 years old at the time. I had a tweed suit on that was very itchy and I’d keep getting up and stretching throughout the game. At one point he said, “Mom, I want to tell you, don’t get up in the top of the seventh.”
And so that, sports and athletics—he was a wonderful swimmer, and had a feeling for the beauty and sensitive things in life. Well, he could go to a movie and be so moved and the tears would come. You know, at that age, young people can’t express their feelings.
I’ll just never forget the last time I saw him. He was right in this room. He was driving to Oxford, Ohio, for the training session with a friend and he just hugged me and his body was so full of life. To think that wonderful human being was lost to the world is something....I can talk about Andy and I do without this kind of emotion, but when I think of those moments. . . There’s a picture of him taken when he was in the theater (on the piano).
The spring before Andy left for Mississippi we had a little garden in the country and Andy helped me plant some corn. There’s nothing more dead looking than a corn seed. It’s dry and has no life at all. And he put it in the ground and after Andy was missing for several weeks, you know it was 44 days, we went up to the country and there was that that corn coming up—green, beautiful. I thought about this young man planting it.
Because I suppose during those 44 days that Andy was gone I couldn’t really face it but I think I knew.
I suppose I’ve wondered a little, but in answer to your question, it was Andy’s own life experiences, his family experiences, the fact that in this house he heard a lot of open talk—the fact that there was a gathering of people in the 1950’s during the McCarthy era, who were on the board of directors of what was called the Joint Anti-Facist Refugee Committee supporting the Democratic government of Spain against Franco. And they refused to give names of their supporters to the McCarthy committee. And the party was to celebrate and support the people and that night they were leaving for jail and they all went to prison because they refused to give names.
Andy saw that. He knew that his parents would go out and picket on the line for better working conditions for working people.
So all of that—his background, his knowledge about himself, his own activity, led him to listen to Aaron Henry and Fannie Lou Hamer when they came to Queens College and say, “Yes,” this is my move, this is what I have to do. This is what I believe in.
And Andy was the kind of person, if he believed in something he didn’t just say, “Well, it’s a good idea,” he wanted to be a part of it.
He knew what the risks were. He had lived through all this with his family and his own experiences.
In fact, the summer that he was working with the children out in Jersey, it was the New Jersey Hills, surrounded by some very, you know—well, it was the kind of neighborhood where they didn’t want the camp, they didn’t like the idea of black and Hispanic children nearby.
He and a friend were coming back from an evening in town and they were stopped by some kids and beaten up and there were some nasty remarks about them working in that camp with those black children. So he knew what it was.
And I think we were prepared for Andy to be injured, to be hurt, to be hosed, to be beaten up. But, of course, parents never want to think of what really happened.
Movie ‘Mississippi Burning’ raised awareness
Dearman: I was wondering if you saw the movie, “Mississippi Burning” and, if so, what you thought about it.
Goodman: Well, I thought that it had a strong impact on many people in terms of arousing their awareness to the fact that there were three young men killed in their efforts in 1964 to register black people to vote, and they were murdered by the Klan.
It showed Mississippi—a town in Mississippi—where there was a great deal of violence and hatred and that men could take three innocent young people who wanted to do voter registration and who wanted to teach in freedom schools and murdered them because they didn’t want that happening in the state.
And I think that message got across.
As far as being a movie about the civil rights movement, it was not that. Yet, the director made no pretensions of its being that. It was about the FBI solving this mystery, this murder.
Dearman: I thought the movie evoked the mood of the period.. . .
Goodman: Yes, It did that.
Dearman: ...but the extra plot that they added, it didn’t happen.
Goodman: No, this is fiction. It was a movie about the solution of this murder and the FBI were the heroes. I think that a lot of people hoped that it would be about the reason that the young men went South, about the participation of blacks in the civil rights movement, and the multi-dimensional rather than something like the good guys and the bad guys and the typical solution.
Dearman: I am sure there will be other books and other movies over the years
Goodman: Certainly. I would hope so, I certainly would, and I think there will be. And I think that this may have elicited the interest of enough people that someone will say, “Now, let’s make a movie about this.” Because what happened then was such an incredible drama and would have to capture the attention of a vast number of people. And I certainly hope that what we are planning to do this year to commemorate the twenty-five anniversary of the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew
Goodman, my son, and Michael Schwerner would even interest people further in doing something about that particular period of the civil rights movement.
Prior to Neshoba, little attention to black lynchings
Dearman: Yes, and along that line I wanted to ask you, what is there about the Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner case—bearing in mind that books have been written about it, a motion picture has been made and it has been used in other creative forms—what is it about this case that differs from the other civil acts of violence during that period?
Goodman: Well, as far as an act of violence, it’s that no matter who is violated. It was different in the sense that this was part of a large movement of young people, black and white, mainly college, but there were certainly other people involved. There were lawyers, there were doctors, there was the clergy and so on. But it was largely young college students, many of them who were captivated, who were so aware of the things that were happening and the deprivation of rights and all that had preceded their going south in what was called the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964.
Before that, Martin Luther King had walked onto the world stage with the Montgomery bus boycott. And in the very early Sixties, 1961, 1962 and 1963 there were the freedom rides and so forth.
And 1964 was a moment in our history when many young people knew about what was happening. They knew why they felt that they had to participate and they decided that they wanted to go South. They wanted to be a part of this movement. And that was —of course, you may also be getting at the fact that the difference was that there was a number of white people involved in this particular project, although that was certainly true of the freedom rides as well.
But prior to that time there were blacks who were lynched, blacks who were murdered, blacks who disappeared, and there wasn’t all that much attention drawn to that. So in that sense, it’s different.
Dearman: Yes, of course there are the elements in this case of conspiracy, violence, mystery, coverup, intrigue—all those things that give creative people things to draw on.
There have been things through history that have furnished material for novels, movies and plays.
Goodman: Of course, many of those things were true of many of the cases of lynching and murder that took place in the South, the coverup. Nobody was going to confess to have lynched a black man.
Dearman: So many of those cases were never solved.
Goodman: Yes, so that many of those elements—probably the major difference was that this was something that was multi-racial, violence against black and white.
Dearman: I always thought, and I don’t know if you agree with this, that this case was more or less the high water mark during those years, that the magnitude of this case had the effect of putting an end to the pattern of things that were happening.
Goodman: Yes, I think it was certainly a
watershed in the movement. We do have to remember that there is still violence and now we’re talking not only about blacks and whites, we’re talking about people of all colors. And we have in this country now many people, from the Asians and people from a Hispanic background, and we read in the paper everyday of houses being bombed and communities being wracked.
But it was a turning point in the civil rights movement, it really was, and it certainly was an event that effected the entire nation. And it was worldwide.
I have met black South African students since that time who have said to me that the death of the three boys and that particular period in our history gave them the direction and guidance in what they had to do as young people to free their country and to make blacks participate in the life of their country.
Dearman: You recently went to Mississippi—Jackson, for a purpose. What are your impressions of having gone to the state capitol and meeting people there.
Goodman: Well, from all I knew and from what I had read, it was almost like Alice in Wonderland, going into the capitol of the state of Mississippi and into the governor’s office where one time Bilbo sat. And it happened that James Farmer, who you probably know, was with us, and his remark was, “The last time that I saw the Mississippi governor was when he came to see me in the Parchman State Penitentiary in 1964.”
It was, as far as that was concerned, a whole different world. Governor Mabus is a fine young man as I perceived him. He was open, he welcomed us, he offered to be of whatever help he could. We met the attorney general. I’ve subsequently spoken on several occasions to Dick Molpus, the secretary of state who, as you know, is from Philadelphia and who joins in that part of the administration in wanting to create a different image of Mississippi. And Mississippi is a different place. We all know that in 1964 there were no black elected officials and it now leads the country in that state which has the most black elected officials. And the whole aura, atmosphere, of the administration is a different world.
Even the nation has way to go on civil rights
However, I have to say, and I think this is true of the entire nation, that while there have been many changes and a lot of it growing out of the civil rights movement, we do have a way to go.
And we know that in Mississippi, like many other states and places throughout the country, there is residential segregation.
Dearman: Those things don’t change much—
Goodman: They don’t change that quickly, but I’ve gotten to know a number of black people in Mississippi and some of them say, “You know I live in a primarily white neighborhood.”
But that’s the minority. And people tend to move away and the for sale signs go up when the blacks come in. And, as I say, this is not a regional problem, it’s a nationwide problem.
But there have been changes, yes.
Dearman: As I understand it, you’ll be going down to Philadelphia, Mississippi in June—
Goodman: On June 21.
Dearman: What are your feelings about that?
Goodman: Well, I was just speaking with my niece last night who is the same age as Andy, and they were very, very close. And she wants very much to be in Mississippi, but she says,
“You know, I’m struggling with the idea because I have such anger toward those people from Mississippi who murdered my cousin, who was truly to me a brother.” And I said to her, “Jane, I had those same feelings at that time, but we can’t live with those feelings because if we do it freezes us in time and we can’t move on.”
Coming to state very important for Mrs. Goodman
My husband, who died five years after Andy died, and I talked about it a lot. We had these feelings, they overcame us and we knew that we had to deal with them. And not that we feel differently about those men who perpetrated this terrible crime or that particular society or segment of society that bred those men. But Mississippi has changed, and going down there and being a part of this caravan is very important to me. I will be there. I’ve never been to Philadelphia, Mississippi, although as you know I’ve been in the state.
I just feel that if there are people there who still have these same feelings that they had 25 years ago, we’ve got to reach out to them and let them see that there is another way, that by joining together and reaching out together and talking together, problems can be solved. And I say that about all nations throughout the world. There are all kinds of things that are happening—in the Middle East in the Far East and so forth, and if we refuse to talk to the people we look upon as our enemies, we are never going to solve the problem.
It begins with a husband and a wife and begins within a family and it goes on to countries and nations, that if you don’t deal with your differences, you don’t deal with your animosities. They are like boils and they fester and they ultimately destroy you.
Dearman: That’s like a community is simply an extension of the individual.
Goodman: Of course, it’s a group of individuals and reflects that values and beliefs of the individual.
Dearman: And the thing you mentioned a moment ago about this thing would eventually destroy you—one of my purposes in talking with you and my working on this observance on June 21 is because of the fact that some of the people have never come to grips with it, have never faced it. There’s a lot of denial.
Goodman: You’re talking about Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Dearman: Yes. There’s a lot of denial, you know, such and such a person would say, “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved.” But this idea of collective guilt or corporate guilt is something I’ve spent 25 years turning this over and trying to find out and resolve what I think about it.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that every person in the community has a responsibility.
But I think this community, if they can participate in this observance, pay homage to the lives of these three boys and face that squarely and say, “Yes, it did involve us,” that that would be a great achievement.
Comparison drawn to the Holocaust
Goodman: Yes, well, I think that has happened, certainly, in the person of the Secretary of State [Dick Molpus, a Philadelphia native]. He hopes to play a major role in making this happen in the most positive way and I admire him greatly for that.
You know, what you were just talking about, a kind of guilt and not facing it is very much like what happened in the Holocaust after World War II when people said, “Well, I wasn’t a part of this, you know,” or “I did what I was told,” or “I did what everyone else did,” and so forth. I think if that’s one of the achievements at that time it would certainly be noteworthy and people are able to say, “Yes. And now we want to move forward.”
Dearman: That’s very important. You know, I’m really glad these people from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are involved and willing to work with us because they have the expertise and resources to handle this crowd.
Goodman: This is a wonderful opportunity, I think, for folks in Mississippi to begin to move and to change that image that has existed over these many years. And it’s true of many people who would want to be involved. People get stuck with an image and for good reasons in many cases, but this is a wonderful opportunity to change all that.
I never envisioned that what I had thought of doing in the way of commemoration, something to continue their work and perpetuate their memory. But mostly, to engage young people in the spirit and in the work that still has to be done. I never thought it would develop to such enormous proportions, so we’re working desperately and hard and intensely and I’m working 18 to 20 hours a day.
Dearman: What is your project about.
Reaching out to young people and
Goodman: What we’re doing? What we’re doing is reaching out to the young people, to inform them of their past, to bring to them the awareness that these difficulties are different— the problems, the issues are different but not finished, and to engage them in social change activities so that they can be a part of the change toward a real democracy. And we’re doing—the big event that the coalition is engaged in and we hope to continue in many different ways, is to begin this South to North freedom caravan and to attract the attention of the entire nation to the fact that there are people, many people and young people who, when they know when they can be aware of what the current issues are, can move in the same way to give the issues of racism, which is still rampant in this country; of economic and social injustices which still exist.
And to repair the alliances which were strong at one time, particularly the black-Jewish one.
Dearman: One of the things I read about the reverse freedom caravan in the Jackson newspaper was that there would be a voter registration effort in New York City.
Goodman: Yes. We hope that there will be two weekends in New York City in which there will be voter registration, the weekend before the caravan comes and the weekend of the caravan. And the day after the cathedral event, which will be a Sunday, the voter registration will continue and the people on the caravan will participate and then they’ll return to where they started.
We want to do that, and I think there will be voter registration by some of the other people in Washington, D. C. with young people.