close window to go back to timeline

June 21, 1964: Neshoba County killings  go to audio


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.


audio Click 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.



audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.       
                                                                                                                          Total 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 help.

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 for them.

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