1964: Neshoba County killings
In the summer of 1964, civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman,
and Michael Schwerner left their base in Meridian, MS to investigate one of
a number of church burnings in the eastern part of the state. The Ku Klux Klan
had burned Mount Zion Church because the minister allowed it to be used as a
place for civil rights activists to organize and to recruit. After the three
had gone into Neshoba County to investigate, they were subsequently stopped
and arrested by Neshoba deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. After holding the three
for hours, Price finally released them only to arrest them again shortly after
10:00. He then turned the civil rights workers over to his fellow Klansmen.
The group took the activists to a remote area and beat them until they died.
Special treatment, however, was reserved for James Chaney, the one black in
the group. The Klansmen, in addition to beating Chaney, also used a small handgun
to shoot him through his penis and anus, ostensibly because he "knew better"
than to be consorting with outside agitators looking to change the status quo
in Mississippi. After several weeks of searching, and after recovering more
than a dozen bodies not belonging to the missing civil rights workers, the authorities
finally found them buried under an earthen dam. Several Klansmen, including
Price, were arrested and tried for the brutal killings. The jury, made up of
their cousins, friends, and sympathizers, found them all NOT GUILTY. Some time
later, the federal government charged the murderers with violating the civil
rights of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. This time the Klansmen were convicted
and served sentences ranging from two to ten years.
on the play button to hear the following excerpt. Total time: 39 seconds
I've read about so much violence concerning the Klan, so I get my stories
mixed up sometimes. But if I make no mistake, the guy that killed Schwerner,
Goodman, and Chaney. A lot of those people were Church of God, Church of
Christ, and sanctified. I don't know why folks refer to them as Holy Rollers,
sometimes, but they're supposed to be just highly religious. But in their
mixed-up minds, they'll go around and kill up somebody, and they even have
nerve to say they're going according to the word of God.
-- J.P. Miller, a native of Blaine, Mississippi
In 1951, he left Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta and moved
to Pascagoula. He was an active union member at International Paper Company,
an active supporter of civil rights, and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
on the play button to hear the following excerpt.
time: 1 minute, 53 seconds
Now, we had a code within the COFO movement that said if you were detained
more than twenty minutes, you call in. Regardless of where you are, call
in, because we had to know as best we could where you are.
OK. Twenty minutes passed, no call, twenty minutes more passed, no call.
The dispatcher called me to tell me that the three kids were missing, and
they couldn't find them. I called the FBI in Meridian and asked them for
My request to them was to call every jail between Meridian and Philadelphia
to see if they were there. Really, the philosophy was, if they were there,
that the jailer would have much less a desire, or well, would have had less
activity toward dealing with them negatively, if he knew the FBI was looking
The answer I got back was that "You haven't proven they've been carried
across the state line nor have they been absent 24 hours, so consequently
the FBI cannot become involved."
I will always hold the FBI responsible for the murder of the three because
a simple phone call would have done it.
—Aaron Henry, Mississippi NAACP president during the 1960s, discusses
the murders of activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner