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Coalition pushes to reopen 1964 murders

By Staff
NEWS CONFERENCE Alex Thomas, left, associate manager of heritage development with the Mississippi Development Authority, meets Wednesday with David Vowell of the Philadelphia-based Community Development Partnership before a news conference in City Hall to announce plans for the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Neshoba County civil rights murders. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Erin Hilsabeck / staff writer
May 27, 2004
PHILADELPHIA To the members of Neshoba County's Philadelphia Coalition, there is no statute of limitations on murder.
Even though 40 years have passed since the murders of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the 30-member task force is pushing to reopen the case. They want to bring closure to the event that has drawn so much attention to the town of about 7,300 people.
The Philadelphia Coalition also announced plans for a June 20 commemoration of the civil rights murders, to be held at the Neshoba County Coliseum and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church.
Leroy Clemons, co-chairman of the Coalition and president of the Neshoba County NAACP, said that though past attempts to reopen the case were unsuccessful, the 40th anniversary of the deaths seemed like an opportune time to try again.
Prince added that the recent reopening of the Emmett Till case, another civil rights-related murder, is encouraging, and he hopes evidence from the Neshoba case can be raked over one more time.
The case
On June 21, 1964, members of the Ku Klux Klan murdered black Meridian resident Chaney and white New Yorkers Goodman and Schwerner.
The trio had been in Neshoba County to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion church. Their bodies were found 44 days later in an earthen dam, and the deaths brought national attention to Philadelphia.
Seven members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted of federal civil rights violations in the deaths and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years to 10 years. None of the convicted served more than six years.
Tourism opportunities
Clemons and Prince said that even if the case is not reopened, the Coalition will have accomplished a lot.
In a new tourism venture, the city of Philadelphia plans to print 5,000 brochures highlighting how the civil rights murder case changed the community.
An oral civil rights history project, a documentary film, guided tours and the placement of new historical markers are also in the works.
Clemons said the reopening the case would help remove the stigma associated with Philadelphia.
Neshoba County's Philadelphia Coalition will mark the 40th anniversary of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner on June 20:
Noon Food and fellowship at the Neshoba County coliseum
2 p.m. 40th anniversary commemoration at the coliseum
3 p.m. Music and speakers at the coliseum
4 p.m. Memorial service at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church
5:30 p.m.- 7:30 p.m. Pilgrimage tours to Mt. Zion on buses. Beginning at 5:30, two buses will leave the coliseum every 30 minutes until 7 p.m.