James Chaney

James Chaney, a black man, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white males, fought for justice and equality in our country. They stood up for what they believed in and ended up dead. Unfortunately, this is something that occurs often. Our country is ashamed of what happened to these men, and we should be. These three men were in a group called the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) founded in 1942, that tried to bring social change without violence. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
Michael was married to a woman named Rita in New York city. Michael and Rita got a job from CORE for $9.80 a week, along with food and lodging from local African-American families. They were assigned to Meridian, the second largest city in the Mississippi. They set up a community center with a total of 5 rooms. These rooms were for African Americans to meet, make clothes for themselves, learn how to apply for job, learn how to register to vote, and read books. There they earned respect from blacks like James Chaney. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
In June 1964, Michael, Rita, and James were sent to the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio to train volunteers for the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. They wanted to recruit one last person to join them. Michael chose Andrew Goodman to help run a Freedom school in African american communities, like Longdale. The freedom schools taught people how to read and write so they would have a better chance at passing the voting test or getting a job. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
Michael, James, and Andrew headed to Longdale to investigate a burned down church that was supposed to be a freedom school. This church would only be the beginning of these fires. Twenty more fires soon followed. The KKK members expected to find Michael Schwerner at the church. The KKK were very angry when they noticed that there were no civil rights workers there (Mississippi Burning). They resulted in killing ten people, only sparing an old praying women. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
After leaving Longdale the men decided to head back to Meridian. They were warned by many people of the things that could happen to them if they were arrested along the way. Michael, James, and Andrew kept this in mind, changing their route to make it safer. They left at 3:00 A.M. to avoid any trouble and headed down highway 16. This blacktopped highway would take them through Philadelphia. Sheriff Price pulled over their station wagon in city limits west of Philadelphia. Michael, James, and Andrew were arrested for going thirty five miles over the speed limit. This is very unlikely because the men knew the speed limit and would never put themselves in that situation. However, Price could have only arrested James because he was the driver, but he arrested all three of them. Price later explained that he arrested the men because they were possible suspects of the assault on Mount Zion Church. This was not uncommon, Civil rights workers were often often accused of burning down their own organizations to gain publicity. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
All of the sources of the night Michael, Andrew, and James got arrested have different stories. When the men got to the jail they were seperated because of their colors. Seventy-two hours of holding was the legal limit for an investigative arrest. While the men were there they had no reason to expect any issues. They were fed and hoped that their office would call in for them. What the men didn’t know is that someone actually did call for them and their existence was denied. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
Later that night the men ended up being let go around 10:15. However, there position had been tipped off and the KKK knew where and when they became released (The FBI Used Mofia). It is said that Michael, James, and Andrew walked out of the jail that night. No one knows what actually happened next. After that night the men were nowhere to be found. They were reported missing two days later on June 23. A women named Mary King called every jail in the Mississippi area and the U.S. Justice Department. The Justice Department ordered a full investigation by the FBI. Everyone expected the worst, cases like this never turned out good. Many police forces and sheriffs thought it was nothing and that the men were just hiding out somewhere trying to attract attention to themselves. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
The families of the Men including Michael’s wife Rita, turned to the White House for help. Not only were the FBI searching for the men, sailors and Helicopters from a nearby naval base were also helping. Many people believed that the disappearance of three ordinary civil rights workers was unimportant and deserved little, if any attention. On June 24 the FBI came across a burnt station wagon northeast of Philadelphia. The station wagon was the vehicle that the three men were driving the night that they disappeared. Lyndon B Johnson, the president shared the pain and discomfort of the parents and explained the them that the FBI will continue to search for their sons bodies. However, the parents wanted him to say that the federal government would take responsibility for the mess. They believe that they men should have been protected. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
There were around 1,000 people interviewed and most of them were considered members of the KKK. The FBI started to get angry because no one would give them information. They finally resorted to bribery, offering 30,000 dollars to anyone who knew where the bodies were buried. Strict confidentiality became another factor. To the FBI’s surprise they heard news within a week after forty days of searching. A large bulldozer dug Michael, James, and Andrew’s bodies out of the cold, hard ground.. After the bodies were examined they found out that all of the men were shot and James’s body had lots of broken bones. However, the cause was unknown. There was a possibility of the bones being broken by the burial or the beating. Finding the bodies of the men was a great step in the right direction for the FBI. However, the killers were still out there. (Fireside, Harvey 2002)
Edgar Killen, Sheriff Price, some armed men, and another sheriff of Neshoba County were found guilty of the murders. Killen wasn’t fully prosecuted until forty-one years later. However, seven people out of 18 became found guilty (Rebello, Lara). The families of Michael, James, and Andrew could finally be at peace.
There were plenty of disagreements and situations during this time. There was a disagreement in the fact that the change in punishment for kidnappings doesn’t reflect a congressional want to alter the statute of a limitations period. However, nothing in the Congressional Record has been found to make it much easier to solve kidnappings or somehow make a certain crime less deserving of an unlimited limitations period (Rowe Michael).
Many people viewed the Mississippi Burning in different ways. For example, a man named Doug McAdam did a study that involved around one thousand students helping the civil rights movement. Doug wrote a book called Freedom Summer. This book interviewed the students and recorded the students lives once they returned from the movement. Doug believes that the Mississippi Summer Project lead to the formation of Counterculture of the sixties and the New Left. He also divided his book into three categories. The first one describes that the Freedom Summer became an organizational basis for most of the activism throughout the sixties and the development of a larger counterculture throughout that era. The second category described how a political and cultural bridge between the blacks and college campuses came abrupt. Finally, Doug believed that the volunteers that went to this college made some ties and left a lot of groundwork to eventually create a nationwide activist network. (Weinberg, Jack)
Jack Weinberg believed most of Doug’s analysis. For example, he agreed that Doug’s knowledge of the civil rights movement was the start of other movements occuring. He also agrees with the initial moment of change throughout the 1960’s being the main focus of his book, Freedom Summer. (Weinberg, Jack)
The interpretation of the whole process became a strong key point that Jack disagreed with. Doug believed that the volunteers that went to the campus became influenced by the black movement and then brought back to their original campus. The size of the group of people led Doug to believe that they constituted a critical mass and later became the reason that the New Left grew. Jack believed that only one factor of the southern civil rights movement spreading northerly was determined by the students. There is record of a four year involvement in the category of civil rights throughout the north. Jack hadn’t seen any evidence that the creation of networks were because of the associations that became formed in Mississippi in the 1960’s. However, Jack still finds the book very useful and interesting. Most of Doug’s information is accurate. (Weinberg, Jack)
Many people believed that the summer project that Andrew, Michael, and James were trying to promote would be helpful for Mississippi. However, once the idea of this project got out to the press there was a lot of anger being spread throughout the city. Many thought that this project would destroy the idea of liberty that the governor Paul B. Johnson had addressed. They saw it as an invasion. This project was talked about in the newspapers and led Johnson to say that this project was trouble and people should be aware that this is coming. Even the mayor of Ruleville warned the blacks throughout his community to be careful and that people were coming to kill them. This however, was not true. The news of project got out of hand so fast that people didn’t particularly know what to do. The list of names that people called the participants in the summer project were endless, going from trouble makers to carpetbaggers to racial zealots. Some people thought that the idea of the project was starting to make things worse. Amongst all of the comotion, a young black boys body was found in a river with a cotton gin fan around his neck. He was killed because he said, “bye baby” to a young white woman. There would have been different treatment if the skin of the boy had been a different color (Rachal, John R.).
The killer of these men, Edgar Killen, was interviewed many times while in prison for his sentenced 60 years. Being very defiant throughout interviews, Killen kept insisting that he would eventually be freed and didn’t ever seem to show remorse for what he had done. The families of these men pray and hope that he can find peace with God and maybe one day understand the grief and pain that he caused. Killen even bragged to a man that he wouldn’t be prosecuted and believed that Andrew and Michael were communists. (Klansman)
This tragedy known as the Mississippi Burning should never have happened in my opinion. If only there could have been another way. I just don’t understand how people can be so cruel based on the color of one’s skin. It almost makes me sick thinking about it. Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were three men trying to make a difference in the world. The men just wanted to start organizations to help young people learn how to read and write so they can somehow pass the voters test or get a job. They were punished for wanted to help people.
I don’t necessarily agree with (Rachal, John F.) article. This article explained that the project made people angry and made things get worse. I think that things would have gotten worse with or without the idea of the summer project. If no one would have tried to help the African Americans make a living then it would have resulted in more deaths. If the start of the summer project wouldn’t have led to the men’s death would people have noticed that there was a problem? I believe that the project was meant to happen to make people realize that there needs to be a change in how the world and other people are treating people. I do however agree with Jack Weinberg’s opinions on Doug McAdams book. I agree with the fact that Doug made interpretation too much of a factor throughout his opinions and book.