Task force to plan commemoration
Thursday, June 24, 2004 7:23 AM
A task force of city, county and Tribal leaders is being formed to help plan a 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 civil rights murders and to study options for an appropriate public memorial.
The task force is similar to one formed in 1989 to mark the 25th anniversary but will be perpetual in nature and address racial issues on a continuing basis, organizers said.
As many as 3,000 people are expected to attend the commemoration here on Sunday, June 20 along with as many as 300 media representatives, officials said.
In conjunction with the anniversary, a tourism committee is working to produce a color brochure and a short documentary on civil rights history as part of a cultural heritage tour.
The civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan on the night of June 21, 1964, after investigating the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church in the Longdale community.
The task force will work with the Rev. John Steele and a committee from Mt. Zion to plan the event.
Several speakers, including former Gov. William F. Winter, have agreed to take part, said Steele, a Neshoba County native living in California.
A group of six leaders met on March 15 to discuss the anniversary and agreed to form the task force and to make appointments from a broad cross-section of the community.
Meeting were: Leroy Clemons, head of the Neshoba County NAACP and a host at Pearl River Resort; Stanley Dearman, editor and publisher emeritus of The Neshoba Democrat; Dick Molpus, former Secretary of State and a Philadelphia native; Jim Prince, editor and publisher of The Neshoba Democrat; David Vowell, president of the Community Development Partnership; Philadelphia Mayor Rayburn Waddell and James Young, president of the Board of Supervisors.
In a telephone consultation before the meeting, Choctaw Indian Tribal Chief Philip Martin offered his support.
Among the appointments will be two each from the city, county and the tribe.
Clemons and Prince were selected to co-chair the task force and will have two appointments each.
The next meeting is March 29.
Any who are interested in participating in the task force should contact Sally Beam at the Community Development Partnership, 601-656-1000, or any of the task force members.
Steele will be in town on April 5 and is scheduled to meet with the full task force.
Brenda Mills, a member of the tourism committee, said the civil rights tour was an avenue for the community to promote its history.
“There are other towns like Selma and Birmingham that have developed civil rights tours through their tourism,” she said. “We have so many people interested in our civil rights history and it’s an avenue that we’ve been missing through tourism.”
Mills said the tourism committee had sought input from the Cultural Heritage Division of the state Department of Tourism and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
Before the 1989 commemoration, Goodman’s mother, Dr. Carolyn Goodman, spoke of how important it was to make her first visit to Philadelphia.
In an interview with Dearman, Goodman, remembered her slain son, a handsome college man and a great athlete who played the clarinet beautifully and loved the dramatic arts.
She spoke of reaching out to the hardened hearts of those who committed or still condone the murders.
“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,” Mrs. Goodman said.
Unsettled differences fester and they ultimately destroy, she said.
Andy was like his father, a person of many dimensions, admired so by one college professor that after Andy died she told his mother that the year he was in her poetry class was her greatest year of teaching ever.
Classmates looked up to him. “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,” she said.
He was a wonderful swimmer, and had a feeling for the beauty and sensitive things in life, she said.
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,” she said.
He was headed to a training session in Ohio as he prepared to go to Mississippi the last time his mother saw him.
“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 his parents had planted a little garden in the country and Andy helped plant some corn. “There’s nothing more dead looking than a corn seed. It’s dry and has no life at all,” she said.
During the 44 days he was missing they went up to the country and there was that corn coming up —green, beautiful. “I thought about this young man planting it,” she said.
During those 44 days she said she couldn’t really face the reality of his death but “I think I knew,” she said.
“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.”