U.S. Rep. John Lewis in 2004, right, shaking hands with then-Gov. Haley R. Barbour at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 civil rights murders in Neshoba County. Seated, front, between them is the now late Carolyn Goodman, mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young men murdered here helping to register blacks to vote. Seated far right is then-U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering. The others are members of what was then The Philadelphia Coalition which organized that event and called for justice in 2004.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis in 2004, right, shaking hands with then-Gov. Haley R. Barbour at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 civil rights murders in Neshoba County. Seated, front, between them is the now late Carolyn Goodman, mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young men murdered here helping to register blacks to vote. Seated far right is then-U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering. The others are members of what was then The Philadelphia Coalition which organized that event and called for justice in 2004.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a noted civil rights activist, will be the keynote speaker at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Sunday during the 50th Commemorative Service for three young men murdered by the Ku Klux Klan here in 1964 while registering blacks to vote.

The commemoration will continue throughout the week with tours, a youth day and a unity march and program, among other events.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, activist and widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, will be among the keynote speakers at a unity program Saturday, June 21 at the Neshoba County Coliseum.

Rep. Lewis will speak at the annual 3 p.m. service at Mt. Zion on this Sunday, June 15 commemorating the lives of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner.

The young men were ambushed and later shot by the Ku Klux Klan on Father's Day, June 21, 1964. They were in Neshoba County investigating the burning of Mt. Zion five days earlier.

The Klan believed the church was playing a central role in the black voter registration effort.

Several members were beaten, some severely, as they left the church the night of the fire.

In 1967, seven men were convicted of conspiring to violate the civil rights of the three murder victims.

The 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning" was a highly fictionalized account of the murders.

In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, a part-time Baptist preacher and sawmill owner, was convicted on three counts of manslaughter for his role in orchestrating the murders.

Killen received three 20-year consecutive sentences.

Mt. Zion Church is 10 miles east on Mississippi 16 and then 2.5 miles north on Road 747 in the Longdale community.

Jewel McDonald, one of the commemorative organizers and Mt. Zion member, said they were excited about having Lewis speak at their church.

"We do this every year and are happy to have the people that are coming in attendance this year," she said. "We are excited to have Congressman Lewis come and speak this Sunday."

McDonald's brother and mother were beaten by the Ku Klux Klan on the night the church was burned in 1964.

Speaking during the 40th commemoration service here in 2004, Lewis told the audience that "some of us gave time, some us a little blood. These three citizens of the world gave all they had."

Neshoba County native and former Mississippi Secretary of State Dick Molpus will introduce Lewis at Mt. Zion.

A representative from the families of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner will be in attendance. After they speak, a candle will be lit in memory of their loved ones.

McDonald said "Drum Major for Justice" awards would be presented during the service at Mt. Zion.

"We are trying to recognize the pioneers that are still living and have had an impact in the area," she said.

Clergymen, government leaders, civil rights leaders and others are also slated to speak at the church.

Canton United Methodist Church will provide music for the event.

"We are trying to honor their [Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner] contribution to the civil rights bill after their disappearance," Peggy Gibson, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church pastor, said.

"This is for the movement of inclusiveness," she said." Regardless of race, we are all equal in God's eyes."

The church has hosted the memorial service each year since the murders in June 1964, when the church was set on fire to lure the three workers to their deaths.

Lewis was born to sharecroppers in 1940 outside of Troy, Ala., and attended segregated public schools.

As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. While at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn.

For challenging Jim Crow, he has been beaten by mobs, sustained many injuries and arrested 40 times by the police. By 1963, he was recognized as one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis coordinated the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee efforts to organize voter registrations drives during the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Lewis resides in Atlanta, Ga., and has one son, John Miles.

The remainder of the commemoration week will be filled with daily civil rights tours and a screening of the film "Neshoba, the Price of Freedom" on Thursday. Friday will be youth day and will also include a program honoring local heroes at the historic Mt. Nebo Church.

The week-long commemoration climaxes, Saturday, June 21 with a day of events, including a unity march and prayer at the Neshoba County Courthouse at 10 a.m. and concluding with the unity program at 4 p.m. at the Neshoba County Coliseum.

The week-long commemoration schedule includes:

• Sunday, June 15: Kickoff event at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church at 3 p.m.

• Monday, June 16: Civil Rights Tours at the Tourism Office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Tuesday, June 17: Civil Rights Tours at the Tourism Office in the historic train depot from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Wednesday, June 18: Civil Rights Tours at the Tourism Office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Thursday, June 19: Civil Rights Tours at the Tourism Office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; "Neshoba, the Price of Freedom" screening and question and answer session from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the historic train depot which houses the offices of the Community Development Partnership.

• Friday, June 20: Youth Day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the coliseum; Civil Rights Tours at the Tourism Office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Honoring Local Heroes Program at Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

• Saturday, June 21: Unity March at the Neshoba County Courthouse from 10 to 11 a.m.; Unity lunch from 12 to 1 p.m.; oral history interviews at 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Unity Program from 4-6 p.m., all at the coliseum.

For more information call Leroy Clemons at 601-504-3980 or the CDP office at 601-656-1000.