Forward Forum: And the Choirs Kept Singing of Freedom
This week's guilty verdict in the trial of 80-year-old former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, charged with the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964, closes an important and bloody chapter in American history.
Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were members of the Congress of Racial Equality, known as CORE. In June 1964, they traveled to Neshoba County, Miss. They were arrested by the sheriff, released and then shot by a mob and buried in a shallow grave, where their bodies were discovered August 4. Killen was arrested and tried on federal civil rights charges in 1967, but the all-white jury deadlocked and he went free. Seven others were convicted on civil rights charges; none served more than six years.
Mississippi was no stranger to civil rights killings. A year earlier, Byron de la Beckwith had shot to death Medgar Evers, the state leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. De la Beckwith, who had once been stopped driving around New Orleans with a gun and a map indicating the home of the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, was convicted for that murder in 1994.