Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman: The Struggle for Justice

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David in Atlanta
Joined: 21-04-06
Jun 25 2008 09:29
Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman: The Struggle for Justice
The History

Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman disappeared at approximately 10:00 p.m., Sunday, June 21, 1964. The next day their burned-out station wagon was found in the Bogue Chitto swamp, and the bodies of the three civil rights workers were found forty-four days later, buried fifteen feet in an earthen dam. Three years after their murders, twenty-one Klansmen were arrested by the FBI, and on February 27, 1967, a federal grand jury for the Southern District of Mississippi indicted nineteen members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (White Knights) under Title 18, section 241, for conspiracy "on or about January 1, 1964, and continuing to, on or about December 4, 1964, to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate Michael Henry Schwerner, James Earl Chaney, and Andrew Goodman." A two-week federal trial in Meridian, Mississippi, resulted in seven guilty verdicts and sentences ranging from three to ten years.

The State of Mississippi has never filed criminal murder charges against any of the men involved in the murders. After careful review of the available evidence, including the 2,900 pages of the transcript from the 1967 federal trial, a list of exhibits found in the appendix to the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and two signed confessions, it is evident that an organization known as the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was complicit in the murders of the three civil rights workers.

The Sovereignty Commission. In March 1956, Mississippi Governor J.P. Coleman made a request of the Mississippi legislature to enact a state sovereignty bill that would preserve segregation of the races in the state." (Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, "Mississippi Is Final Battleground for Activists Trying to End Spying by States," Clarion Ledger, July 28, 1989.) The Mississippi legislature responded by creating the Missis-sippi State Sovereignty Commission (the Commission). The Commission's purpose was to investigate, collect, and disseminate information on so-called race agitators and subversives. To accomplish its goals and to maintain its statewide intelligence network, the Commission hired investigators and informants to gather information on civil rights workers, and even paid African American leaders to inform on civil rights workers in their own communities. In addition, the Commission collaborated with law enforcement officers who were sympathetic to and actively supported the Ku Klux Klan (the Klan).

The Commission was composed of some of the most powerful figures in the state, including the governor, the state attorney general, the president of the state senate, and the speaker of the state house of representatives. Other members included state supreme court judges, senators, and members of the state house of representatives. The relationship between the Commission and these high ranking state officials provided additional legitimacy to the organization.

Although there is no physical evidence that the Commission directly participated in these murders, a mountain of circumstantial evidence, documented within the Commission's own files, confirms that: (1) the Commission provided legitimacy to the White Citizens' Council and the Klan; (2) the Commission was a source of information for the Citizens' Council and the Klan; (3) the Commission worked to impede the federal investigation of the murders; (4) it thwarted a state prosecution; (5) then-Governor (and Commission member) Paul Johnson withheld information from the FBI; and (6) by gathering and distributing information about Michael Schwerner and his travel plans to Klansmen in Meridian and Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Commission participated in the murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman. The Commission, the White Citizens' Council, and the Klan. From the beginning, the Commission was comprised largely of men from the White Citizens' Council (Citizens' Council), an organization commonly described as "a current version of the Klan," a "scrubbed-up cousin of the Klan," "a white collar Klan," "an uptown Klan," a "button-down Klan," and a "country club Klan." (Neil McMillan, The Citizens' Council: Organized Resistance to the Second Reconstruction 1954-1964 (1971).) Because the members of the Commission were also members of the Citizens' Council, the Citizens' Council was able to use the Commission to spread its influence into every agency in Mississippi, while the Commission collaborated with the most insidious segregationists in the state.

There was an unofficial relationship between the Commission and the Klan. Members of the Citizens' Council were also Klansmen, and the more influential the Citizens' Council member, the more influence he had with the Klan.