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.
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.
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.
On Oct. 30, 1959, Luther Jackson was murdered by then Philadelphia, Mississippi policeman Lawrence Rainey. Rainey was not prosecuted. He went on to become Neshoba County Sheriff and was accused of playing a role in the cover up of the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Jackson’s was one of many racially motivated murders investigated by Medgar Evers. As quoted in Local People, Myrlie Evers explained that Medgar Evers “investigated, filed complaints, literally dragged reporters to the scenes of the crimes, fought back with press releases, seeking always to spread the word beyond the state, involve the federal gov’t., bring help from the outside.” Read more on this page from the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ): and in Local People.
Nichols, Ajatha: Oral History
Ajatha Nichols grew up in a family of four in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Throughout her education she experienced integration, the murders of the civil rights workers, and the gaining of voting rights for black Americans then expresses her feelings toward the events. Ajatha explains how she got involved in the civil rights movement through her mother. She explains how her mother made her take part in the integration of a white school her senior year. Although she says she did not witness any violence Nichols divulges that the experience was still hard and different. She also talks about a program she participated in that gave her new perspective on race relations. Ajatha Nichols then talks about Philadelphia’s present racial situation, highlighting the shortcomings of the education system. She also speaks on she and her husbands dealings with white co-workers. Nichols says that it is important to be able to adjust to changes while still being true to yourself.
Part one of her oral history can also be viewed here.
Kotz, David: Oral History
David Kotz was a volunteer working for COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) during the summer of 1964. After twelve hours of being in Mississippi, Kotz and five other volunteers were left in charge of the COFO office in Meridian, while Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner went to Philadelphia to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion. After their bodies were discovered, Kotz continued to work in Mississippi, albeit reluctantly. He discusses the reaction of many civil rights leaders to the inaction of the FBI as well as the memorial for the three men, which he attended.
Part one of his oral history can also be viewed here.
Beam, Sally: Oral History
Sally Beam was a juror on the Grand Jury case against Edgar Ray Killen, the man responsible for the murders of the civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman. She begins by discussing how outsiders viewed Neshoba County, the reasons for the county officials to re-open the case, and how the people of Neshoba County viewed the re-opening of the case this late after the actual event. Beam then goes on to talk about the testimonies and the goings-on within the trial. She explains how the murders took place and the myriad of people behind them. She closes with her feelings during the aftermath of the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen and the court’s inability to bring charges against any new suspects without the presence of sufficient evidence.
Part one of her oral history can also be viewed here.
Wells, Thelma Moore: Oral History
Thelma Moore Wells grew up in the rural area of Neshoba County, twelve miles north of Philadelphia, Mississippi. She was raised on a farm with 15 siblings, her mother and father. Her father owned the land where they grew their own food and sold crops for income. Wells recalls that the children only went to the town of Philadelphia, MS twice a year for clothes. She lived in a neighborhood with Black and White families but did not face the terrifying horrors of racism as those they lived in or closer to Philadelphia. Her father Jim Moore was the foundation in the family and protected them from racism. It was he that permitted Wells to attend Neshoba County although he knew what she would be facing. On August 15, 1965, Wells was the first African-American to attend Neshoba County High School along with other Blacks in elementary and middle school. Through her terrible experience at the school, she choose to leave the school after one semester and returned to George Washington Carver High School. She left Mississippi after high school and worked for General Motors. She only returned to Mississippi to take care of her mother in 1988. In these videos, we hear about Wells experiences with integration and its aftermath on education and class status in Neshoba County, MS.
Part one of Thelma Moore Wells’ oral history can also be found here.
William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
Matthews, Carolyn: Oral History
Carolyn Matthews was born in 1946 in Philadelphia, MS, which she describes as a normal, quiet, small town. Her father was a policeman, and her mother was a dressmaker. Because her parents worked most of the time, she was raised by her grandparents and, after they died, two black maids, whom Matthews considered to be family. She lived a very sheltered life as a child and was never aware of any violence that took place in town. She remembers using the white water fountain, sitting in the white waiting room, and attending football games with only white people, but never understood why society was segregated.
Matthews discusses the turbulent years between 1963 and 1968, marked by the assassinations of Pres. John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and by the start of the Vietnam War. She was a senior when COFO became very active in Philadelphia but only knew about the civil rights workers because they made her black maids nervous. And when Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner disappeared and their car was found, she just assumed it was an isolated incident. But because her father was the police officer who had been working the radio the day of the three civil rights workers’ arrest, Matthews was well aware of the investigation and the subsequent trials as they progressed. She even aided the investigation when she overheard a white man bragging about his actions in the bowling alley where she worked. Because of her and her father’s involvement in the prosecution, the Matthews family suffered some harassment. After college, Matthews never moved back to Philadelphia.
She spent some time on the Gulf Coast and is now a high school English teacher in McComb, Mississippi.
Part one of her oral history can also be viewed here.
Cox, Nettie Ann: Oral History
Nettie Ann Cox was raised in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by a single mother. Cox vividly remembers the events of the Freedom Summer of 1964, from the efforts of the COFO workers to the burning of Mt. Zion Church and the murder of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. She was influenced by these events and by her mother and community figures like Lillie Jones, with whom she would sit on the front porch across from the COFO office. As a long-time resident of Neshoba County, Cox can speak not only to the distrust black people had for their white peers and the importance of taking a stand but also to the positive changes that have occurred since the civil rights movement.