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
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.
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
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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