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Chaney, Goodman & Schwerner

 

Michael Schwerner

(November 6, 1939 - June 21, 1964)

 

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Called Mickey by friends and colleagues, was a CORE field worker killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, by the Ku Klux Klan in response to the civil-rights work he coordinated, which included promoting registration to vote among Mississippi African Americans.

 

Born and raised in New York, he attended Michigan State University, originally intending to become a veterinarian. He transferred to Cornell University, however, and switched his major to sociology, going on after graduation to the School of Social Work at Columbia University. While an undergraduate at Cornell, he integrated the school's chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.

 

Twenty-four-year-old Schwerner had come to Mississippi in January of 1964 with his wife Rita after having been hired as a CORE field worker.  In his application for the CORE position, Schwerner, a native of New York City,  wrote "I have an emotional need to offer my services in the South."  Schwerner added that he hoped to spend "the rest of his life" working for an integrated society.  On January 15, 1964, Michael and Rita left New York in their VW Beetle for Mississippi.  After talking with civil rights leader Bob Moses in Jackson, Schwerner was sent to Meridian to organize the community center and other programs in the largest city in eastern Mississippi.  Schwerner became the first white civil rights worker to be based outside of the capitol of Jackson.

 

Once in Meridian, Schwerner quickly earned the hatred of local KKK by organizing a boycott of a variety store until the store, which sold mostly to blacks, hired its first African American.  He also came under heavy attack for his determined efforts to register blacks to vote.  After a few months in Meridian, despite hate mail and threatening phone calls and police harassment, Schwerner believed he made the right decision in coming to Mississippi.  Mississippi, he said, "is the decisive battleground for America.   Nowhere in the world is the idea of white supremacy more firmly entrenched, or more cancerous, than in Mississippi."

 

"Goatee" to the klan of Neshoba and Lauderdale counties, was the most despised civil rights worker in Mississippi. Klan  Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers ordered Schwerner's "elimination" in May, 1964.  The Klan finally got their chance to carry out the elimination order on June 21.  Because they were with Schwerner, and would know too much if they were not killed, James Chaney and Andy Goodman also had to die.

 

Schwerner's murder occurred near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he and fellow workers, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were undertaking field work for CORE.

 

The three (Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman) were initially arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price for an alleged traffic violation and taken to the jail in Neshoba County. They were released that evening and on the way back to Meridian were stopped by two carloads of KKK members on a remote rural road. The men approached their car and then shot and killed Schwerner, then Goodman, and finally Chaney.

 

The film Mississippi Burning is loosely based on the murders and ensuing FBI investigation (as is the TV-movie Attack on Terror), and the events leading up to the deaths of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were dramatised in Murder in Mississippi.

 

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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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