Courageous Activists of Freedom Summer Remembered on 60th Anniversary

A Turning Point in History

It was the summer of 1964, a time now infamously known as Freedom Summer. Three idealistic young men, namely James E. Chaney, Andy Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, landed themselves in the heat of Neshoba County, Miss., not knowing the magnitude of the circumstance.

The Trio’s Aim and Background

They had taken on the daunting task of investigating a church firebombing. Beyond that, the trio, made up of two individuals of Jewish faith and one of Catholic faith, were there on a grand mission to register voters, form schools, and facilitate better health care. A part of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), their efforts targeted the deep South’s segregated population. They were young, they were brave, they were students and working-class men responding to the call for justice and equality.

The Tragic Incident

But just a day after they arrived, their mission witnessed a horrifying blow. On June 21, 1964, the young activists were arrested, released, kidnapped, and then brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. What followed was a heart-wrenching and prolonged search for justice.

Aid from Civil Rights Leaders

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other civil rights leaders of the time led the campaign for justice. They used their voices and resources to find these criminals. The discovery of the men’s bodies, along with those of several other abandoned African-American boys, after 44 painstaking days was a powerful testament to social discrimination.

Address from Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King, in a stirring speech given at the inaugural Queens College President John F. Kennedy lecture series in 1965, honored the selflessness of Goodman and his colleagues. He poignantly noted that Goodman’s ‘creative witness’ would keep the struggle for justice alive for generations.

Long Road to Justice

Although it took 41 long years to sentence the murderers, the impact of this horrifying incident was far-reaching. Edgar Ray Killen, a perpetrator, was given a 60-year sentence for manslaughter, and died in jail. Significantly, the deaths of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner spotlighted the stark reality of deep-rooted racism in America, propelling the implementation of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Legacy Lives On

Celebrating the legacy of these brave heroes, the Andrew Goodman Foundation was formed in 1966. The Foundation runs the “Vote Everywhere Campaign,” promoting civic engagement among young leaders and university partners. The foundation named its ambassadors after Goodman. These ambassadors work in the communities to encourage voter registration, break voting barriers, and address social issues.

Recognizing the Efforts

On May 30, 2024, at the Queens College commencement, three figures closely related to the history received the president’s medals – David Goodman, the Rev. Julia Chaney-Moss, and Steven Schwerner. They were honored for their tireless efforts in civil rights and carrying forward the legacy of the tragic heroes. In an earlier gesture of recognition, in 2014, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the presidential medals of freedom to Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner for their incredible courage and sacrifice.

A Call to Honor the Heroes

As America moves into another crucial presidential election year, let’s all recall the sacrifices made by these heroes so we might vote today. Let’s commit to removing any barriers that hinder voter empowerment, driving a high voter turnout to strengthen our democracy. To learn more about the 60th anniversary of this pivotal event, visit:

Never forget the lessons of Freedom Summer, the courage of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, and the importance of their struggle. Our right to vote is the psalm of their courageous tunes.


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