“Here’s to the state of Mississippi,For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines.If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find.Oh, the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes.The calendar is lying when it reads the present time.Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of”-- Phil Ochs (1965)
“The government of Mississippi felt so strongly about the need to protectsegregation, it created its own spy agency to deal with the threat ofintegration. By an act of the Mississippi legislature, the Mississippi StateSovereignty Commission was created on March 29, 1956. The new organizationwas granted extensive investigatory powers. Anyone, black or white, whoexpressed support for integration, was involved in civil rights, or even hassuspect political affiliations was a fitting target for commissioninvestigators. The Sovereignty Commission exercised far-reaching authority on thepeople of Mississippi. It banned books, censored films, and closelyexamined school curriculums. It even censored national radio broadcasts andtelevision programs.”
You think that’s bad? Wait until you read the filthy slogan on whichSheriff Lawrence Rainey--a central figure in this story--ran for office in1963.
Given this level of institutionalized racism, it is no wonder that morelynchings of black Americans took place under the fat trees of Mississippithan anywhere else in the country.
“I think of Andy in the cold wet clayThose three are on my mindWith his comrades down beside himOn that brutal dayThose three are on my mind”-- Pete Seeger
That brutal day, of which Pete Seeger sang, was fifty years ago today:June 21, 1964. It was on that day that Andrew “Andy” Goodman, James Chaney,and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner were set up for execution by a Mississippideputy sheriff and murdered by Klansmen. Why? Because they sought tohelp black Mississippi residents register to vote.
THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS explores the lives and families of these threemartyred activists. Until now, I knew what happened to them but I didn’tknow them as individuals. Through reading about their upbringings andfamilies, I now understand why the two young men from New York and the localkid from Mississippi were each inspired to risk his life in order to helpchange things for the better.
We also learn what a horrible and backward place Mississippi was. Therewere murderous racists hiding behind badges, segregationists representingthe state in the U.S. Congress and Senate, and black Americans who were stillbeing treated as if it were the 1800s.
One thing was for certain: If you supported integration or believed inblacks registering to vote, you were in danger in Mississippi.“The looming Freedom Summer influx of outside activists and Mickey’sgrowing success served as a huge recruiting tool for the White Knights of theKu Klux Klan. Unbeknownst to Mickey, in March 1964, plans to kill him hadbeen hatched at state and local Klan meetings. In late March, the LauderdaleKlan had voted to concur with the vote of state KKK officials to eliminateMickey. Klan members subsequently watched Mickey closely after that,looking for an opportunity to murder him. With every initiative Mickeylaunched, the Klan’s determination to stop him increased.”
THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS tells three intertwining stories. One is aboutthe institutionalized racism that often reminded me of Mildred Taylor’sCSK medal-winning novel, THE LAND. The second is about the murders, thesubsequent search to find the missing young men, and then the long struggle tohold the murderers accountable. And the third, the one that thoroughlymoved me, brings to life these three young American heroes.
978-0-545-47725-3 256 pages Ages 12 - 15 Grades 6-9
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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