Lauderdale County Data Dashboard
Andrew Goodman (1943-1964) was a participant in the Freedom Summer movement of 1964. He originally got his start in the civil rights movement after graduating from Walden School. He was from the Upper West Side of New York; however, he left New York to train and improve his activism skills at Western College for Women. At age 20, in June 1964 he took his talents down to Meridian, Mississippi, to help register blacks to vote. This was a danger for all involved due to community and government members strongly opposing granting this right to blacks. Furthermore, some of those who were opposed to granting blacks the right to vote and equality were willing to stop anyone involved in the movement by any means necessary. Through the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, spies were paid to give information about civil rights organizing. The Commission was especially interested in out of state activists.
Less than 24 hours after Goodman arrived in Meridian, he went with fellow activists James Chaney and Michael Schwerner to investigate a church burning and violent beatings of church membersin Neshoba County. As they were preparing to leave the area and return to Meridian, the three men were pulled over by local police for a supposed speeding violation. They were taken to a jail in Philadelphia MS but were released later that evening, only to be chased down and murdered by klan members, who had been alerted by local law enforcement about the young men’s release and route back to Meridian. The murderers buried the bodies in an earthen dam in Neshoba County, where they were discovered on August 4, after a federal investigation.
James Chaney (1943-1964) was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement, fighting for voting rights for African Americans. He joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1963 and was part of a campaign for voter registration and desegregation known as the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. During this time, he was based in his hometown of Meridian MS, where he worked with voter rights activist Michael Schwerner. In June 1964, Ku Klux Klan members burned Mt Zion United Methodist Church in Neshoba County MS. On June 21, Chaney and Schwerner, along with “Freedom Summer” volunteer Andrew Goodman, who had been in Mississippi for less than 24 hours, went to investigate the church burning and violent beatings of church members. After leaving the church that day, the three men were stopped by police. They were taken to a jail in Philadelphia MS but were released later that evening, only to be chased down and murdered by klan members, who had been alerted by local law enforcement about the young men’s release and route back to Meridian. The murderers buried the bodies in an earthen dam in Neshoba County, where they were discovered on August 4, after a federal investigation.
“James Earl Chaney.” CORE, www.core-online.org/History/chaney.htm.
“Murder in Mississippi.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/freedomsummer-murder/.
Bender, Rita Schwerner
Rita Schwerner Bender was born in 1942 and is considered a key player and civil rights activist during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
Rita Schwerner and her husband Michael Schwerner were native New Yorkers who moved to Meridian, Mississippi, in January of 1964. They were tasked to work as field staff for the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), assigned to the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). Rita and Michael’s primary work was in the creation a community center that focused on black voter registration.
On June 21, 1964 Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman went missing after their investigation of a black church bombing in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Almost forty days later, the bodies of the three men were found buried near a dam. Members of the Ku Klux Klan, in collusion with local law enforcement, were responsible for these murders. Michael Schwerner’s and Andrew Goodman’s deaths drew attention on a national level solely because of his identity as a white man. Rita Schwerner acknowledged this in her statement to the media, claiming that the world would have taken little notice if her husband were a black man.
Bender continued her efforts to improve voting issues with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party following the death of her husband. She eventually earned a law degree and worked as a public defender for the American Civil Liberties Union. She returned to Mississippi in 2005 to testify in the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who was found guilty of manslaughter for orchestrating the murders of her husband, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman.
Rita and her second husband, Bill Bender, are attorneys in Seattle, Washington, and remain deeply involved in civil rights and racial justice work.
Hannah-Jones, N. (July 22, 2014). A Brutal Loss, but an Enduring Conviction. Retrieved from: https://www.propublica.org/article/a-brutal-loss-but-an-enduring-conviction
Testimony of Rita L. Schwerner (1964). In Mississippi Black Paper: Fifty-Seven Negro and White Citizens’ Testimony of Police Brutality, the Breakdown of Law and Order and the Corruption of Justice in Mississippi (New York Random House, 1965), pp. 59-60,61, 62-63.
Sturdivant, Syria Hayes
Syria Sturdivant Hayes is a prominent attorney in Meridian, MS. While attending the University of Mississippi School of Law, she became the first African American representative and the first woman representative in the student senate at the university. She went on to pursue a storied career in the law in her hometown of Meridian.