60th Mt. Zion Memorial set for June 16

60th Mt. Zion Memorial set for June 16


U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson will headline the 60th anniversary observance of the Freedom Summer murders here.

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, 11191 Road 747, will hold its 60th memorial service for James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner on Father’s Day weekend Sunday, June 16, at 3 p.m.

The three young men were murdered here by the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964, while registering Blacks to vote. The church was burned to lure the civil rights workers to Neshoba County so they could be murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in a conspiracy hatched by Klan leaders in Meridian, according to court testimony.

Thompson represents the 2nd Congressional District of Mississippi as a Democrat.

This year’s theme is “From The Ashes We Rise.”

“It’s so important to us at Mt. Zion to always recognize this day every year,” chairwoman Jewel McDonald said. “So many people come out who want to participate and sing songs. We should have a fantastic program.”

The young men, Chaney, 21, Goodman, 20, and Schwerner, 24, were in Neshoba County to investigate the June 16, 1964, burning of the Mt. Zion church.

Several members of the church, including the now late Bud Cole, were severely beaten the night of the fire by a hooded mob that included law enforcement as they left a church meeting.

McDonald said she remembers that evening. She had just turned 18 and was left home to babysit her niece. McDonald remembers her mother, the late Georgia Rush, and brother, the late John Thomas “J.T.” Rush, Jr., who came home late from the church meeting bloody from a beating.

“It was a sad thing,” she recalled. “They burnt that church to the pillars.”

The trio left the church on Father’s Day afternoon, June 21, and headed back through town to their headquarters in Meridian. They were stopped on Main Street near the First United Methodist Church and arrested on trumped-up speeding charges. They were detained in the Neshoba County Jail until nightfall, when a posse could be organized. 

They were released at dark and, as they traveled down Highway 19 south, were ambushed at House by a gang of Klansmen that included law enforcement. They were taken north on Highway 19 to a remote county road and shot to death at point-blank range.

Their bodies were buried in an earthen dam not far from the murder site and found 44 days later following one of the most extensive federal searches in history.

The murders went unprosecuted for 40 years until a multi-ethnic group of Neshoba countians, empowered by a community-wide call for justice endorsed by local business and political leaders.

A Neshoba County grand jury indicted Edgar Ray Killen in early 2005. He was convicted in a jury trial on June 21, 2005 — 41 years to the day of the murders — and sentenced by Judge Marcus Gordon to a 60-year prison term for arranging the deaths. Killen died at Parchman Prison in January 2018 at the age of 92. 

For more information about the memorial service, contact the Rev. Eddie Hinton at (662) 341-0084 or via email at eddiejobs316@aol.com, Obbie Riley at (601) 562-7051 or via email at obbieriley@yahoo.com, or Jewel McDonald at (601) 650-9720.

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