Some 54 years ago, back on August 4, 1964, America and the entire world finally had an answer to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi. The bodies of the slain civil rights activists had been found near Philadelphia, Mississippi where they had been shot and buried in an earthen dam, all because they were involved in registering blacks to vote during the “Freedom Summer” voter registration campaign project throughout the South.
Today, this editorial space will be used to pay homage and to honor America’s true heroes and patriots, blacks and whites, men and women, young and old, who sacrificed their lives fighting for the right to vote for all Americans in order to nudge us closer to fulfilling America’s promise of equal rights and equal opportunity for all. Many young black and white civil rights workers put on their armor of courage and became committed to the “Freedom Summer” voter registration drives fifty-four years ago this summer.
Throughout our nation’s history, many brave individuals have fought and died in the struggle for civil rights, particularly for the right to vote. It was in June 1964 that James Chaney, a native black Mississippian, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, both whites from the North—volunteers with the “Freedom Summer” voter registration project in Mississippi—were reported missing. Their bodies were not discovered until over a month later, on August 4 following an extensive FBI investigation, urged on by U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson.
Over the course of the last fifty-four years, since the slaying of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner and after the successful prosecution of several klansmen, much has been done to help keep their memory and legacy alive. They, along with the many other volunteers of the “Freedom Summer” voter registration campaign project, can be called the real heroes in the struggle for equality. Their courageous actions and protests did a great deal to help awaken the conscience of the nation. In honoring the legacy of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the three young men the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June 2014 on the 50th anniversary of “Freedom Summer.”
Additionally, the memory and legacy of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner and the other “Freedom Summer” volunteers led to the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By all accounts, one of the most important victories of the Civil Rights Movement was the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. While commenting on the passage of the Voting Rights Act, President Johnson prophetically stated this victory “is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
By all means, we must refuse to allow the memories and legacies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner be mocked by any attempt to make voting more difficult.
Larry Sutton is a retired school teacher from Clinton High School.