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On June 29, 1964, the FBI began distributing these pictures of civil rights workers, from left, Michael Schwerner, 24, of New York, James Chaney, 21, from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman, 20, of New York, who disappeared near Philadelphia, Miss., June 21, 1964. The three civil rights workers, part of the 'Freedom Summer' program, were abducted, killed and buried in an earthen dam in rural Neshoba County. (AP Photo/FBI)

One of the most heinous crimes during the civil rights movement happened the year after I was born, 1964. It's still unsolved, but an anonymous donor is offering $100K  reward for information leading to murder charges.

Has our society learned anything about intolerance, bigotry and violence and the rights of fellow citizens? Sometimes it seems we have, other times it's disheartening how history repeats itself, just with a different cast of characters.

(AP):
The reward will be administered by an interfaith organization as the state renews efforts to bring charges in the killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.

"There are people who have been harboring some of this information for a long time. There was a lot of common knowledge about this," said the Rev. James White, treasurer of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, which is overseeing the reward money.

Nineteen men, many of them Klansmen, were indicted. Seven were convicted of federal civil rights violations and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years.

But the state never brought murder charges and none of the men convicted served more than six years.

Of those indicted, only seven are still alive, said Jacob Ray, a spokesman for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who has reopened an investigation of the slayings.

It's sad and enraging that the kind of blind prejudice, hatred and violence at the root of these murders existed within my lifetime, and in fact, still exists today. It was only 1998 when James Byrd was dragged to his death in Texas by sadistic thugs that watched as his limbs were torn from his body. It was that same year that Matthew Shepard was violently beaten to a pulp and tied to a fence and left to die (oh wait, ABC said it wasn't a hate crime). It's not just about the South or rural Texas either. The brutal 1982 murder of transit worker Willie Turks by a "wilding" gang of Bensonhurst thugs in NYC (Turks made the "mistake" of walking through "the wrong neighborhood") proves that hate knows no geographic boundaries.

The kind of venom and bigotry we hear from the Right about gays today is a sad echo of ignorance from the past, no matter how the wingnuts try to spin it. It has to stop. There are countless hate crimes that go unnoticed by the media. We cannot let the moral lesson of crimes like the Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney murders go untaught -- we have come so far, and have so much more yet to learn about the most base impulses of human nature.

These three young men also taught us a lesson of how people can work together for a common goal -- basic human rights. I fear we are in such fractured political times that we have lost sight of what we can accomplish together.

Pam's House Blend

Originally posted to pamindurham on Wed Dec 22, 2004 at 09:52 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great diary, thanks (none)
    The kind of venom and bigotry we hear from the Right about gays today is a sad echo of ignorance from the past, no matter how the wingnuts try to spin it. It has to stop. There are countless hate crimes that go unnoticed by the media. We cannot let the moral lesson of crimes like the Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney murders go untaught -- we have come so far, and have so much more yet to learn about the most base impulses of human nature.

    Unfortunately it won't stop.  But we can and will make progress.  Pardon me while I make an optimistic comment here.

    To mix metaphors here:  One of the biggest successes of the civil rights movement has been to make racism uncool.  Racism is "in the closet" because of all the hearts and minds that have been won since the 1950s.  That's why the Trent Lotts of the world now have to "speak in code" and talk about supporting Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign instead of "coming out" and exposing the rot in their hearts.

    We are making that same kind of progress with gays and lesbians.  It won't be completed overnight, but hearts and minds and eyes are being opened.

    I can't tell you how many straight white people from the 'burbs (people like me) have changed their attitudes in many ways.  Even "liberals" like those of us on this board.  Before last year, for example, I would have said that, yes, gays deserve marriage rights in the abstract, but why bother waving the red flag in front of the Bubbas.  When Gavin Newsom opened up City Hall in S.F. and gave marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, we all saw on TV as thousands of couples waited in line all night in the rain to get married.  That was such an eye-opener because everyone could see, right there on TV, how important marriage and acceptance is.  Those folks traveled from all over and waited in line for something I've taken for granted my whole life (because I'm a straight white guy from the 'burbs).  We could all see how important it is and recognize that there is no honest, moral reason why gays and lesbians should be denied marriage rights.

    So hang in there.  Progress is being made every day.  Don't let the backlash from the haters get you down.

  •  Speaking of re-opened investigations (none)
    The FL Attorney General has agreed to reopen the investigation of the 1951 Harry & Harriette Moore murders.

    From this article:


    In 1951, Harry and Harriette Moore were fighting for the rights of African Americans by registering Black voters and speaking out against school segregation. As was common in the Jim Crow South, civil rights activism cost them their lives. Harry Moore died on Dec. 25 on the way to the hospital. Harriette died nine days later. No one was ever convicted of their murders.

    The FBI might have had evidence at that time, but decided to end the investigation to keep peace, Gary said.

    I think it's good news that these cases are being reopened, but the pattern of letting enough time pass for people in charge or in power, or are guilty, to fade from the scene should be considered crimes in themselves, and prosecuted fully.

    •  "Elected leaders, business executives, and (none)
      law enforcement officers."

      Another article about the Moore murders:


      The murders sparked international outrage, and the FBI assigned 20 agents to work the case. They quickly turned their attention to several Orange County men who belonged to or were associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

      Orange County, at the time, had at least three Klan groups claiming a total membership of about 300. FBI records obtained by the Sentinel in 1991 showed the Klan's ranks included elected leaders, business executives and law enforcement officials.

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