CREDOS : Change — IV

Cheryl Rivers

When we learned that young people from the North were traveling to Mississippi to join in the struggle, we felt a tremendous sense of excitement: Equality was right around the corner, we believed. The people who were coming down to work in the movement had a clear moral objective: to register voters and stand up for justice. They were exactly the kind of person I wanted to be.

Mississippi was so dangerous in those days that many decent, moderate whites didn’t speak out. Violence also touched our family. My father had gone to Washington to support equal job opportunities for blacks, and he was shown on the local evening news shaking hands with some African-American leaders who had also testified before Congress. Within seconds, our telephone rang: an unknown voice delivering a death threat. My mother immediately called the sheriff, who said, “Oh, we might be by later.” There was a terrifying sense that our house might be firebombed that night and nobody would help. Mother wouldn’t even call the neighbours.

I’ll never forget learning about the disappearance of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner on June 21. I was in a car with friends when we heard it on the radio. We stopped the car and listened with anguish. We had believed that because the whole world was watching Mississippi that summer, no harm could come to civil rights workers. Yet we knew right away that they had been killed. —