Civil rights slayings remembered
from staff and wire reports
June 21, 2004
PHILADELPHIA Gov. Haley Barbour and other politicians joined hundreds of people Sunday to mark the 40th anniversary of the slayings of three civil rights workers and support reopening the investigation of their murders.
A crowd of about 1,500 blacks and whites met to honor the memory of Meridian resident James Chaney and New Yorkers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
And they came to focus on what former Gov. William Winter called "the unending work of racial reconciliation."
Mississippi never brought murder charges in the June 21, 1964, killings near Philadelphia one of the most notorious civil rights era slayings and a crime that inspired the fiction film "Mississippi Burning."
Seven members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted on federal civil rights violations in connection with Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner slayings. But none served more than six years.
The multiracial Philadelphia Coalition, which sponsored the memorial, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood are pushing for the investigation to be reopened to track down those who aided the killers.
Hood has said he needs help from federal authorities, who are reviewing the matter.
The Philadelphia program was the first of two days of events honoring the slain civil rights activists.
More events were set today for Meridian including an 11 a.m. gravesite memorial at Okatibbee Missionary Baptist Church and a luncheon highlighted by guest speaker Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple."
In Philadelphia, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. a leader of the civil rights movement who was among three congressmen at Sunday's memorial said it is "important that justice be done for history's sake."
Barbour, a Republican, said he supports the reopening of the investigation.
Chaney, a 21-year-old black man, and Goodman, 20, and Schwerner, 24, both white men, participated in Freedom Summer in which young civil rights workers organized voter education and registration campaigns.
The three men disappeared when they went to investigate a fire at a church. Several weeks later, their bodies, beaten and shot, were found buried in an earthen dam a few miles from the church.
Ben Chaney, the younger brother of James Chaney, boycotted Sunday's event, saying organizers were circumventing the efforts of church leaders, who have been memorializing the civil rights workers for decades.
Chaney, who is leading a caravan of 29 volunteers on a two-week voter registration drive to teach about the civil rights movement, told reporters he wanted nothing to do with the Philadelphia Coalition and even requested that it stop using his slain brother's name.
Coalition member Leroy Clemons said the coalition on Saturday had planned to include Chaney's group in the events, but that Chaney apparently reconsidered sometime before the Sunday memorial.