Review of Freedom Summer 1964 by Susan Goldman Rubin
In the summer of 1964 Mississippi was a bad place. There was racism, segregation and violence. The KKK ran things. Not a lot of black people were voting. Just six percent of the black people were registered to vote. A brave group of civil right workers had a plan to do something about it. They would set up freedom schools in Mississippi to educate black people, and help people vote. They would try to get more black people to vote. It would not be easy. It was actually very hard at first.
There were three men: Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman. After Mount Zion Church burned down, they went to investigate what happened. After they were done with their investigation they were on their way home, when the local police pulled them over, arrested them, and sent them to jail. At 10:00 PM the police released them. The three men got back in their car, and were on their way home, but the police followed them. At a dark secluded place on the road, the police pulled them over again, and arrested them again. Also a number of KKK men were present. One of the KKK men said, “So you wanted to come to Mississippi? Well now we’re gona’ let you stay here.” (Page 17) The police and KKK men beat them and ultimately killed the three civil rights workers.
After a few days when the three civil rights workers didn’t show up, people were concerned. Rita Schwerner was the main person, who sent out the search party. Rita had two goals. The first goal was to find the guys alive, if possible. The second one was to use their abduction and possible death to advance the struggle for civil rights. To make this possible she reached out to President Lyndon Johnson, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and the press. Rita and the press started the search, but at first they had no luck. After multiple attempts Rita finally was able to get help from Robert Kennedy. She also met with Lyndon Johnson. They took her call, because civil rights was an important issue at that time, and the press was covering Rita intensively.
Robert Kennedy sent the FBI to Mississippi to keep searching for the three missing civil rights workers. An anonymous person gives them a tip about where they could find the car, but he didn’t say anything about the guys. They found the car in a swamp. It was burned up, obviously to get rid of the evidence. After they found the car the civil rights workers could conclude that the three men were dead. The FBI kept looking and eventually they got a tip from a man named Mr. X, who led them to the guys.
At a memorial service for James Chaney David Dennis, Chairman of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) made an emotional speech to the crowd. He tried to use the emotion of the moment to get black people to vote.
The civil rights workers were starting to have some success registering people in Mississippi. In August they formed the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MDFP). They went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. The MDFP tried to be recognized as the official delegation from Mississippi. They lost, but they focused the nation’s attention on civil rights, and helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So what happened to the Klansmen, who killed the three civil rights workers? On November 20, 1964 Horace Doyle Barnette admitted that he witnessed the murders in return for $3,500 and help in relocating his family. He told the police who did the murders. The FBI started looking again for the murders. In 1964 some of the men were convicted, and some went free. Edgar Ray Killen, one of the main organizers, was one, who went free. In 1983 Sam Bowers admitted that Killen had been the main organizer of the murders. In 2005 Killen was indicted for murder. By then he was 80 years old and in a wheel chair. The trial began on June 12, and Killen pleaded not guilty. On June 21 the jury reached a verdict. They found Killen guilty on three counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on each count, or basically a life sentence. He died in prison.
This book means a lot to me, because I’m black and because the struggle for voting rights is still going on now. If you ever get a chance to read this book you should.