Annual Mt. Zion memorial set for Sunday, June 20

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A retired United Methodist minister and civil rights leader will headline the annual Mt. Zion memorial service for three young men murdered here by the Ku Klux Klan 57 years ago registering blacks to vote.

“Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” will be the theme of this year’s 57th Memorial Service at the Historic Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, 1119 Road 747, in the Longdale community.

The service, scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, June 20, will feature the Rev. James Lawson Jr., a retired United Methodist pastor, civil rights leader and founder of the James Lawson Institute.

This year’s memorial also will feature a workshop series from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 19, presented by the James Lawson Institute, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and Southern University Law Center.

The young men, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were in Neshoba County to investigate the June 16, 1964, burning of the Mt. Zion church set ablaze by the Klan. Several members of the church such as the now late Bud Cole were severely beaten by a hooded mob of Klansmen that night as they left a church meeting.

The young trio, leaving the church on Father’s Day June 21 headed back through town to their headquarters in Meridian, was stopped and arrested on trumped-up speeding charges on Main Street and detained in the Neshoba County Jail until nightfall. 

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

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

“Each year we remind our community of the police brutality, voter suppression, white supremacy and murder of three young men only 20, 21 and 24,” said the Rev. Lydia Michelle Daily, pastor of Mt. Zion. “These young men came to Mt. Zion to teach the community how to vote under Jim Crow racist laws.

The murders went unprosecuted for 40 years until 2004 when a multi-ethnic group of Neshoba countians led a community-wide call for justice endorsed by local business and political leaders and others.

A Neshoba County grand jury indicted Edgar Ray Killen in 2005 and he was later convicted and sentenced to a 60-year prison term for arranging the murders. He died at Parchman in January 2018 at age 92. 

Last year the memorial was held as a virtual meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic with an attendance of more than 100 people. This year, the memorial service will be held in person with social distancing guidelines and virtually as well.

The James Lawson Institute, Miami University, and Southern University Law Center workshop series from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the church, will be under the theme “Nonviolent Transforming our Time, and Our Environment and speakers will include Dr. Mary King, Dr. Daniel Wayne, Dr. Ada Goodley James, Dr. Keith Parker, Deborah Mathis and Gloria William. 

Both events will be live-streamed on the Mt. Zion Facebook Page.


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