Cheryl Rivers

It was 1964, Freedom Summer in Mississippi. For a 15-year-old white girl caught up in the cause, the murder of three young civil rights workers was a defining moment.

On June 21, 2005 — 41 years to the day since James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner disappeared — a jury in Philadelphia, Mississippi, found 81-year-old former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen guilty of manslaughter in their deaths.

When I heard about the arrest of Edgar Ray Killen in early January 2005 for the 1964 killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi, my first reaction was deep sadness. News of the

arrest tapped into the intense grief I felt 41 years ago as a teenager in Jackson, Mississippi.

I first got caught up in the civil rights cause when I was a 12- and 13-year-old, the age when idealistic adolescents begin to see the world with great clarity about

right and wrong. Sit-ins, freedom rides, the 1963 march on Washington - those were the sources of my moral formation.

I remember my frustrated incomprehension that the adult world didn’t respond to the civil rights movement. To me this was a clear issue of right and wrong. At bedtime, I would bargain with God: “If you will make this better, if you will change people’s hearts, I will believe in you.” The civil rights years were a time of real spiritual crisis for me. —