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Chaney, Goodman & Schwerner



James Earl Chaney

(May 30, 1943 - June 21, 1964)


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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.


On January 7, 2005 Edgar Ray Killen, once an outspoken white supremacist nicknamed the "Preacher," pleaded "Not Guilty" to Chaney's murder, but was found guilty of manslaughter on June 20, 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.


Chaney 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.


Chaney 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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[Freedom Summer] [Chaney, Goodman & Schwerner] [James Chaney] [Andy Goodman] [Michael Schwerner] ["Mississippi Burning" Case] [USA v. Price] [Voting Rights] [History of CORE - Text version]


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