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James Earl Chaney,
Philadelphia, Mississippi
June 21, 1964

Agencies: Neshoba County Law Enforcement Center | Philadelphia Police Department Mississippi | Federal Bureau of Investigation - FBI

Last updated: 6 months ago

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James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, young civil rights workers, were arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.

On June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers—a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24—were murdered near Philadelphia, in Nashoba County, Mississippi. They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on trumped-up charges, imprisoned for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who beat and murdered them. It was later proven in court that a conspiracy existed between members of Neshoba County's law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan to kill them.

The FBI arrested 18 men in October 1964, but state prosecutors refused to try the case, claiming lack of evidence. The federal government then stepped in, and the FBI arrested 18 in connection with the killings. In 1967, seven men were convicted on federal conspiracy charges and given sentences of three to ten years, but none served more than six. No one was tried on the charge or murder. The contemptible words of the presiding federal judge, William Cox, give an indication of Mississippi's version of justice at the time: "They killed one ni---r, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved." Another eight defendants were acquitted by their all-white juries, and another three ended in mistrials. One of those mistrials freed Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen—believed to be the ringleader—after the jury in his case was deadlocked by one member who said she couldn't bear to convict a preacher.