Fifty years ago this month, three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Miss. One was an African-American, and the other two were Jewish-Americans. Their last names — Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner — stand for the martyrdom of that era.
On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were murdered while in Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote during Freedom Summer. The men, all members of the Congress of Racial Equality, were investigating the burning of a black church when they were stopped and jailed by a deputy sheriff who was a member of the Klan. The three were released on bail but later shot to death by a lynch mob of Klan members, who buried them in an earthen dam.
Two days later, federal agents found the activists’ burned station wagon, and on August 4, their bodies were found. Nineteen men were indicted in federal court. After a three-year trial, seven of the defendants were found guilty, nine were acquitted, and the all-white jury deadlocked on the remaining three defendants.
It was the first time anyone was convicted of crimes against civil rights workers. This horrific crime opened America’s eyes to the brutality of racism, and that realization played an important role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.