CREDOS : Change - V

Cheryl Rivers

It took 44 days for the bodies to be found. Debate about the case swirled throughout that summer. My parents believed that Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner had been playing with fire, although all they were doing before they were killed was visiting an African-American church that had been firebombed. As for the murderers, the attitude of my parents’ social circle was withering disdain: The killers were rednecks, not of our class. When 18 people were finally indicted and tried in 1967, it was on charges of conspiracy to violate civil rights. No one was charged with the murders. The all-white jury deadlocked in the case against Killen, and he went free. One juror refused to convict Killen, a Ku Klux Klan leader, because he was a Baptist preacher. Like this juror, many fundamentalist Mississippians claimed the Bible justified keeping the races separate. The atmosphere of violence and hate in the summer of ‘64 didn’t stop my friends and me from taking a stand for civil rights. By the end of the summer, the three of us who had begun to go to COFO were allowed to participate in a freedom school at a church near rural Vicksburg, Mississippi. Co-ming back from Vicksburg, we realised that we were being followed. Cars had been circling the church while we were there, writing down our license plates. We were very frightened and exhilarated. The killings of Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner had made us feel that the struggle was worth dying for. —