Today in History: the KKK murder of three Civil Rights workers and the targeting of Black Churches

image via fbi
image via FBI

Sunday’s anniversary of the disappearance and murder of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman in Philadelphia, Mississippi, has been made that much more relevant by the murders Wednesday of  Cynthia Hurd, Suzy Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson in Charleston, South Carolina.

I learned about Schwerner, 24,  Chaney, 21, and Goodman, 20, when I was eleven and attended Camp Kinderland for the first time. Not only is there a bunk named after the three slain Civil Rights workers, but the late Carolyn Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s mother, visited the camp and spoke to campers and counselors. I remember her explaining that the two young Jewish men from New York City, Goodman and Schwerner, and the young Black man from Meridian, Mississippi, Chaney, had been beaten and killed by the KKK for participating in Freedom Summer, the 1964 campaign that engaged 700 young people from around the nation to join with local students and organizers to register Black voters.

It wasn’t until this week, though, when a white supremacist fatally shot nine Black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, that I realized that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were killed while trying to investigate an attack on another Black church. On June 16, approximately 30 KKK members waited until all but ten people had left the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Neshoba County, Mississippi, beat them, and doused the church with ten gallons of gasoline, burning it to the ground.

At the time of the attack, Schwerner and Chaney, both organizers for CORE (Council on Racial Equality), were attending a training in Ohio, which was preparing volunteers for Freedom Summer.  One of the people being trained there was Andrew Goodman.  Learning of the attack, the three returned to Mississippi and, on June 21, inspected the charred remains of the church and spoke to the witnesses.

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