40th Anniversary of "Freedom Summer" Murders - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Neshoba County 6/20/04

40th Anniversary of "Freedom Summer" Murders

By Mari Payton
mari@wlbt.net

Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the slayings of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Shwerner were murdered while helping register black voters as a part of the 1964 "Freedom Summer." Two memorial ceremonies were held on Sunday, June 20th. 

Four decades ago authorities in Mississippi ended their investigation into the murders of the three civil rights workers. To this day, no one has been charged with their deaths. Still, the victims's families are more hopeful than ever

Ben Chaney, who is James Chaney's brother said, "I'm very hopeful. I believe by this time next year we will be looking at a murder trial."

Carolyn Goodman is the mother of Andrew Goodman. She said, "I think there's a good chance. It's been 40 years and I think there's a a good chance because this state has really change."

It remains to be seen whether anyone in the Freedom Summer murders will ever be prosecuted. But 40 years later the community, the victim's families, and the media are still interested in the case.

This renewed hope is fueled by the present effort of the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the case of Emmit Till - the black teenager who was murdered in 1955.

Leroy Clemons, President of the Neshoba County NAACP said, "We were already working on our call for justice. But when they announced the Emmitt Till case that only helped fuel our case."

In the last decade six other cases of civil rights murders have been successfully prosecuted. Chaney's brother wants the Governor and the Attorney General to request a federal prosecutor to take on this case.

Chaney said, "I'm very grateful for Emmitt Till, for people in Birmingham who pushed their cases forward cause it gave us hope and a model to follow for justice."

All agree that Mississippi's race relations have improved in the last 40 years...and that the new generation of Mississippians in particular are ready to re-examine this case.

Clemons said, "Yes, the younger generation in Mississippi is definitely ready."

Ashton Bennett, a 13-year-old from Meridian said, "They went through a lot just to let us have freedom and now we take it for granted, that's why its important not just for people my age but for other people to know that going through this took a lot."

The day's celebration didn't run quite as expected. One of the victim's brothers, Ben Chaney, also a keynote speaker, refused to attend the ceremonies. He said that organizers are publicizing the memorial service for the wrong reasons.

He said they are trying to promote tourism and are using the case to do so. He's also upset that there was a limit to the number of people who could attend the church service.

Organizers said Chaney didn't express any dissatisfaction until today. They decided to hold a public ceremony earlier at the coliseum because there simply wasn't enough room at the church.

Chaney added, "I really feel that the concept of honoring my brother on this 40th anniversary has been distorted. The distortion occurred when the task force decided to take over an event this church has been putting on for 40 years."

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