Effect Measure

Those three are on my mind

All eyes are on Iran as young people struggle for basic freedoms: to assemble, to speak freely, to participate in civil society regardless of gender. It’s a struggle not special to Iran. For some Americans, winning those rights is within recent memory. And when I was a young man, I had contemporaries who didn’t live to see it. In the historic Freedom Summer of 1964, 45 five years ago today, three of them — James Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Meridian, Mississippi, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old white anthropology student from New York, and Michael Schwerner, a 24-year-old white social worker and organizer for the Congress for Racial Equality from New York — died in the struggle:

The three men had just finished a week-long training on the campus of Western College for Women (now part of Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio) regarding strategies on how to register blacks to vote.

After getting a haircut from a black barber in Meridian, the three men headed to Longdale, Mississippi, 50 miles away in Neshoba County, in order to inspect the ruins of Mount Zion United Methodist Church. The church, a meeting place for civil rights groups, had been burned just five days earlier.

Aware that their station wagon’s license number had been given to members of the notorious Citizens Council and Ku Klux Klan, before leaving Meridian they informed other Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) workers of their plans and set check-in times in accordance with standard security procedures. Late that afternoon, Neshoba County deputy Cecil Price ? himself a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan ? stopped the blue Ford carrying the trio. He arrested Chaney for allegedly driving 35 miles per hour over the speed limit. He also booked Goodman and Schwerner, “for investigation.”

Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were all denied telephone calls during their time at the jail. COFO workers made attempts to find the three men, but when they called the Neshoba County jail, the secretary followed her instructions to lie and told the workers the three young men were not there. During the hours they were held incommunicado in jail, Price notified his Klan associates who assembled and planned how to kill the three civil rights workers.

While awaiting their release, the men were given a dinner of spoonbread, green peas, potatoes and salad. When the Klan ambush was set up on the road back to Meridian, Chaney was fined $20, and the three men were ordered to leave the county. Price followed them to the edge of town, and then pulled them over with his police siren. He held them until the Klan murder squad arrived. They were taken to an isolated spot where James Chaney was beaten and all three were shot to death. Their car was driven into Bogue Chitto swamp and set on fire, and their bodies buried in an earthen dam.[1] In June 2000 the autopsy report that had been previously witheld from the 1967 trial was released. The report stated Chaney had a left arm broken in one place, a right arm broken in two places, “a marked disruption” of the left elbow joint and may also have suffered trauma to the groin area. A pathologist who examined the bodies at the families request following their autopsies noted Chaney also had a broken jaw and a crushed right shoulder which were not mentioned in the autopsy report. (Wikipedia entry)

Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner died on the road to the next campaign. That road now runs through Tehran. As I watch, my memories go back 45 years. And on this day, those three are on my mind:

1-13 Those Three Are On My Mind 1.mp3

Artists: Kim Harris and the Magpies, song by Pete Seeger


  1. #1 toby
    June 21, 2009

    George Orwell once wrote that “Sometimes it really is better to die on your feet than live on your knees”.

    Some courageous people in Iran are making that decision tonight. Other made it over the last few days. Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner made that decision too.

  2. #2 Dana Rasmussen
    June 21, 2009

    This is one of those instances where we might be wishing something that is not there. It’s easy to listen to the people in the cities who speak English, and use their computers and cell phones and think they represent a majority. The rural areas are much more conservative. They don’t tweet, they don’t have computers, they don’t speak English, so they are not heard in the West.

  3. #3 Paul
    June 21, 2009

    Your tale, needless to say, did not end there. Murderous and angering as that and many other incidents similar to it were, America did not stop growing at that point. As is documented in the movie, *Mississippi Burning*, our federal government (i.e., the FBI) didn’t just “go along” with that status quo, but made legitimate and successful efforts to bring these bastards to trial. Just as Eisenhower sent federal troops to assure that the first black children were allowed into the school doors of a previously segregated school; and many post-civil war Constitutional Amendments were ratified by 2/3 of all our states to further assure equal voting rights; and judicial decisions (eventually) to address the subtle barbarous racial hatreds and discriminations still persisting at the time of their respective implementations.

    And though our Civil War didn’t start out as a war to abolish slavery, but rather to preserve the Union from the secession of “States Rightists,,” it acquired that cause, and cost 650,000 American lives.

    And lastly, as a denouement of this American tale, our current president is a Black American, the very fact of which, caused many conservatives and Republicans to rejoice at that fact per se, notwithstanding their disagreements with his subsequent policies.

    As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And that’s the *REST* of the story.”

    Just as the “Stars and Bars,” should not be considered too nostalgically for related reasons, neither should civil rights workers be so nostalgically bound to a period of our history, that either their persistent bitterness, or their sense of personal heroism attached to that period, still seem to them a rallying point that can blind them to the positive and the good that this American people, stumbling and muddling as they have through so many years of hatreds and injustices, have arrived at a higher moral ground, compared to what was extant during their personal glory years.

    There is a time for war and struggle, and a time for peace and recognition of a great country’s sincere charity and growth.

  4. #4 revere
    June 21, 2009

    Paul: I don’t disagree. There has been enormous progress. Reminding everyone that these things are not just in Iran but recently in the US, not to mention many other places, some of which we support. It is a long road that winds long before those three and will wind into the future, a struggle that began long before I was born and will go on long after I am dead. The American story is still being written and will be for some time. But today is a day for double reflection, on Tehran and on that day 45 years go in the American South.

  5. #5 another
    June 21, 2009

    And though our Civil War didn’t start out as a war to abolish slavery, but rather to preserve the Union from the secession of “States Rightists,,” it acquired that cause, and cost 650,000 American lives.

    Keep in mind that the secession was itself an attempt to preserve the instution of slavery. Charles B. Dew, a proud son of the South, reluctantly came to that conclusion upon reading the actual words of the commissioners sent to convince their fellow southerners to secede from the Union.

    He allowed the facts to persuade him. The Civil War was about slavery, beginning to end.


  6. #6 another
    June 21, 2009

    “… preserve the instution…”
    s/b “…preserve the institution…”

    Damn my fingers, anyway.

  7. #7 Monado
    June 21, 2009

    And yet, while the Civil War is remembered and celebrated, the oozing wound that was slavery and its subsequent decades of systematic racism tends to get swept under the carpet.

    (Grammar note: the verb “tends” goes with “wound,” which comprises two ingredients: slavery & racism.)

    And whether the citizens of Iran are modern or traditional, I think they could agree on a lot of things they’d like to have, such as a say in whom they marry or the right to be safe in their own homes.

    Thanks for the reminder of the struggle and heroism that got us so far. Let us not settle for anything less for the rest of the world. I think that the rule of law for all, some safety and security, the right to an education, the right to health care, and the chance to make a living are more important in the short run than the form of government.

  8. #8 gilmore
    June 23, 2009

    Thanks for the reminder f those and many others who gave their lives for a better world

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