Freedom Summer Murders


Book Information

Scholastic Press April 2014
  • Character-Building Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

“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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