Three young men murdered in Neshoba County 50 years ago registering African Americans to vote will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House has announced.
Murdered in a plot hatched by the Ku Klux Klan, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 21, and Michael Schwerner, 24, will be awarded the medal posthumously by President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, Nov. 24.
In the midst of Freedom Summer 1964, the three men on Father’s Day were investigating the ruins of Mt. Zion United Methodist, burned to the ground by the Klan because it was being used as a meeting place.
Driving back into Philadelphia the trio was stopped on trumped-up speeding charges, arrested and jailed.
They were released that night and later pursued by a mob of Klansmen that included law enforcement. They were pulled from their station wagon, driven to a remote county road and shot at point-blank range.
After a massive search that included federal authorities, their bodies were found 44 days later buried in an earthen dam off Highway 21 south.
In 1967, seven men were convicted of conspiring to violate their civil rights. Some served prison time.
In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, a part-time Baptist preacher and sawmill owner, was indicted by a Neshoba County grand jury and later convicted on three counts of manslaughter for his role in orchestrating the murders.
He received three 20-year consecutive sentences and is still serving.
The murders gained international attention, and the Neshoba County murders helped lead to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Fifty years ago, the lives of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were taken away from us at a far too early age,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.
“These three young men, and countless others, paid the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to help bring equality to the state of Mississippi,” Thompson said. “Bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor to these three men is a fitting tribute for their contribution toward making this country a more perfect Union. I commend President Obama for honoring these men and look forward to carrying on the spirit of their effort.”
On May 29, Congressman Thompson and members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to President Obama requesting for the Presidential Medal of Freedom to be bestowed posthumously to Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.