The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington celebrates also the most racially diverse civic action of patriots since the abolitionist movement. The historic Civil Rights movement in the U.S. illustrated the capacity of black people through the works of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to create and organize successful national political events.
The historic March celebrated the work of many Americans who gave their lives to assure that our modern democracy would represent the true definition of “freedom, justice and equality” espoused in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution through political/economic solidarity around national, state and local “direct-social” activities.
James Chaney, a black voter-registration field worker murdered in the deep south prior to the March on Washington deservedly, has recently been the center of media conversation but two other youth are also worthy of celebration and historic reflection at this moment when we collectively as a nation again lift our attention to how all Americans are part of the same ‘social contract’ which must continue to evaluate, re-create, sustain and preserve pluralistic and democratic ideals.
Michael Henry Schwerner (November 6, 1939 – June 21, 1964), was one of three Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) field workers killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, by the Ku Klux Klan in response to their civil rights work, which included promoting voting registration among Mississippi African Americans. He is portrayed in the film Mississippi Burning by actor Geoffrey Nauftts who is identified in the credits simply as “Goatee.”
Andrew Goodman (November 23, 1943, – June 21, 1964)
Andrew Goodman was born and raised on the Upper West Side of New York City, at 161 West 86 Street, the middle of three sons of Robert and Carolyn Goodman, of Jewish heritage. His family and community were steeped in intellectual and socially progressive activism and were devoted to social justice. An activist at an early age, Goodman graduated from the progressive Walden School; Walden was said to have had a strongly formative influence on his outlook. He attended the Honors Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for a semester but withdrew after falling ill with pneumonia.
Goodman enrolled at Queens College, New York City, where he was a friend and classmate of Paul Simon. With his brief experience as an off-Broadway actor, he originally planned to study drama, but switched to anthropology. Goodman’s growing interest in anthropology seemed to parallel his increasing political seriousness.
He later led a local Congress of Racial Equality group on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, called “Downtown CORE,” and participated in a 1963 effort to desegregate Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland. The situation in the South led Schwerner and his wife Rita to volunteer to work for National CORE in Mississippi, under the tutelage of Dave Dennis, Mississippi Director of CORE. Bob Moses assigned the Schwerners to organize the community center and activities in Meridian, making Schwerner the first white to be posted permanently outside Jackson.
The three (Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman) were arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price for an alleged traffic violation and taken to the jail in Neshoba County. They were released that evening, without being allowed to telephone anyone. On the way back to Meridian, they were stopped by patrol lights and two carloads of KKK members on Highway 19, then taken in the car to another remote rural road. The men approached then shot and killed Schwerner, then Goodman, and finally Chaney, after chain-whipping him.
The men’s bodies remained undiscovered for nearly two months. In the meantime, the case of the missing civil-rights workers became a major national story, especially coming on top of other events during Freedom Summer.
Schwerner’s widow Rita, who also worked for CORE in Meridian, expressed indignation publicly at the way the story was handled. She said she believed that if only Chaney (who was black) were missing and not two white men from New York along with him, the case would not have received nearly as much attention.
A. Philip Randolph