Editor’s Note — This piece was submitted by Fairfield High School students Ariel Hayslip, Grace Matthews, Chaise Reffitt, and Ethan Yates. Yates told The Times-Gazette that they wrote it because “we thought our community should see what the sixties were truly like for the African American citizens. We think the people of Highland County should see what kind of bravery and courage was shown in order to get the justice these people deserve.”
When most people envision the American dream, they imagine equality, freedom and opportunities. That’s one of the big reasons our country is such a big ‘melting pot’ of culture—ever since July 4, 1776, America has been advertised as a free country full of second chances for everyone. Everyone wanted a country where all people could live and prosper and be free. Human nature, however, deemed that impossible.
Our country can never be truly equal because it’s just our nature to judge people. The sixties brought a lot of change to our country, between fights, deaths and national accomplishments. The white Americans of this time period had a tough choice to make—stand by the African Americans and be shunned by society, or be rude and disrespectful just like the majority of white Americans. Some of these people made awful choices against the blacks, killing and burning and hurting people with a clear conscience. The untimely murders of Micheal Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman helped kickstart the African American fight for justice. Sadly, they were only just the beginning of the movement.
Michael Schwerner was born Nov. 6, 1939 in New York. Schwerner was born and raised in a family of Jewish heritage. He attended Pelham Memorial High School in Pelham, New York. His friends called him Mickey. His mother was a science teacher at nearby New Rochelle High, and his father was a businessman. He got married in June 1962 to Rita Schwerner.
Michael Schwerner was one of three Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) field/social workers killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan. He arrived in Mississippi as a CORE field worker in January 1964. He went to Philadelphia for a 1964 summer project.
On June 16, KKK members targeted Neshoba County’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where Schwerner spent time working. Before burning the church, the KKK severely beat several people who had been attending a meeting there.
Schwerner, however, was not there that day; he had gone to Oxford, Ohio to train a group of Freedom Summer volunteers. He and two other men were thrown into jail for speeding. Michael requested to make a phone call but was denied by Cecil Price. Once the fine was collected, they were told to get out of the county. That was the last time either of them were seen alive. Michael was 24 years old when he was assassinated.
James Earl Chaney, a very important religious figure who had begun volunteer work at CORE, was one of the three members killed that day. James Chaney was killed on June 21, 1964, Philadelphia, Mississippi, by the KKK. Chaney’s body remained undiscovered for 44 days. He was 21 when he died on Rock Cut Road. Chaney’s parents, Fannie Lee and Ben Sr., requested another medical examination, which showed the three slain civil rights workers had been brutally beaten before their death.
Andrew Goodman died at 20 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Andrew Goodman was a college student who was only trying to help a cause he believed in. Sadly, his belief wasn’t shared by many.
Goodman wrote in his school’s newspaper about his desire for racial equality and how some people stood by while these injustices were happening, “The Senators could not persist in this polite debate over the future dignity of the human race if the white Northerners were not so shockingly apathetic.”
Goodman joined both Chaney and Schwener on a trip to join the Mississippi Summer Project, a volunteer campaign to try and register as many African-American to vote as possible. On their way back to Meridian, Mississippi, the three men were pulled over and arrested because their van was identified as a CORE vehicle. In jail, they were denied the right to pay the fines and make a phone call. When CORE called to see were these three members were the police denied having ever got the car. Then the men mysteriously disappeared. All Andrew Goodman was trying to do was bring equality to the world, and he was killed by the very people meant to protect him.
Though the men were mourned and their murders were wrong, their martyrdom helped spark the fight for African American justice. There are still marches and memorials today, honoring these brave men who gave the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in.
They wanted to watch their own children grow up playing with all the other kids, no matter what color their skin was or where they came from. Now, because of their sacrifices, American children can be whatever they want and be with anyone they want without being ashamed about their skin color. Even though there were many untimely deaths and hateful actions during the African American’s struggle, they were all priceless sacrifices. Because of these brave decisions, our country is one step closer to being truly free. Because of these brave decisions, our country is one step closer to liberty and justice for all.