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Three young volunteers were traveling to Mississippi to aid in the registration of African-American voters as part of the Mississippi Summer Project, when they were arrested.

After their release from a Philadelphia jail, the three young civil rights workers disappeared in Mississippi. The three young men were:

  • Michael Henry Schwerner, 24, a white member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Schwerner was born in New York City on 6th November, 1939. After graduating from Cornell University in 1961, Schwerner worked as a social worker in Manhattan.
  • Andrew Goodman, 20, a white Queens College student. Goodman was born in New York City on 23rd November, 1943. A well-known liberal family whose friends included Alger Hiss and Zero Mostel; and
  • James Earl Chaney, 21, a black plasterer and CORE member. Chaney, the son of a plasterer, was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on 30th May 1943. Chaney was an early supporter of the struggle for civil rights.

The FBI recovered their bodies, which had been buried in an earthen dam, 44 days later. The Neshoba County deputy sheriff and 16 others, all Ku Klux Klan members, were indicted for the crime; seven were convicted.

Listen to a taped conversation between Lyndon B. Johnson & J. Edgar Hoover regarding the disappearance.


Date:   September 8, 1970
Interviewee:   Paul B. Johnson, Jr. (former Governor of Mississippi)
Interviewer:   T.H. Baker
Place:   Governor Johnson's home; Hattisburg, Mississippi

Click here for the interview or read the transcript below.


B:    You didn't have any serious doubt that the FBI was on the right track?

J:   No. I knew they were on the right track. Actually, one thing that is not known to the people anywhere in this country is that these klansmen--of couse I knew them very well; most of them had supported me when I ran for governor, [and] I was very reluctant in feeling insofar as pressure--did not actually intend to kill these people. What happened was that they had been taken from the jail and brought to this particular spot. There were a good many people in the group besides the sheriff and deputy sheriff and that group. That they were going to do, they were going to hang these three persons up in a big cotton sack and leave them hanging in the tree for about a day or a day and a half, then come out there at night and turn them loose. They thought that they'd more or less scare them off. While they were talking this Negro, the Negro boy from over at Meridian, he seemed to be the ringleader of the three--

B: That would be [James Chaney]?

J: Yes. He was acting kind of smart aleck and talking pretty big, and one of the klansmen walked up behind him and hit him over the head with a trace chain that you use, you know, plowing and that sort of thing. And the end of the trace chain, as you know, has a buck head on the end of it that is about that large.

B: Two or three inches long.

J: Yes. The chain came across his head and hit him just above the bridge of the nose and killed him as dead as a nit. After this boy had been killed, then was when they determined, "Well, we've got to dispose of the other two." So that's actually the . . .

B: I don't believe that story came out at the trial. Did you hear about this later or--

J: Very, very few people know.

B: --from the people at the time:

J: Well, yes, at the time.

B: Did you feel during that time that there was considerable pressure from the administration to find the people and convict them that had done this?


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