James Chaney was born May 30, 1943 in Meridian, Mississippi to Ben and Fannie
Lee Chaney. In 1963, he joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1964,
CORE led a massive voter registration and desegregation campaign in Mississippi
called Freedom Summer. As part of the Freedom Summer activities, Chaney was
riding with two white activists in Mississippi when they were attacked and
killed by the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964.
Edgar Ray Killen, once an outspoken
white supremacist nicknamed the "Preacher," pleaded "Not
Guilty" to Chaney's murder, but was found guilty of
2005, and sentenced to sixty years in prison.
Chaney was twenty-one when he died
on Rock Cut Road. Chaney had begun volunteer work at the new CORE
office in Meridian in October, 1963, after a girlfriend introduced
Chaney to Matt Suarez, the office's first director. Chaney soon
became Suarez's chief aide, guide, and companion. His work ranged
from constructing bookshelves at the community center to traveling to
rural counties to set up meetings. Chaney, being black, was able
to go places white CORE members were afraid to go. To Mississippi
whites, Chaney was "as inconspicuous as an alley cat."
When the Schwerners arrived in January to assume direction of the
Meridian office, they found Chaney to be their most willing volunteer.
was a native of Meridian and the eldest son in a family of five
children. His mother, a domestic servant, was protective; his
father, a plasterer, left his mother when James was in his
mid-teens. He was slightly built, but athletic. He was
described as shy in public, but a cutup in his home.
first encountered problems at the Catholic school for Negroes he
attended in 1959, when he was sixteen. Chaney was suspended for a
week when he refused to remove a yellow paper NAACP "button."
The next year he was expelled from school for fighting. Chaney
tried to join the army, but his asthma resulted in a 4-F
disqualification. Unemployed and restless, Chaney joined the Negro
plasterer's union, where he apprenticed with his father. His
work as a plasterer ended in 1963 after a fight with his father.
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