Crime Scene Photography · Mississippi · Racially Motivated

Three civil rights activists murdered by white supremacists

June 21, 1964
Philadelphia, Mississippi
Three civil rights workers are murdered by white supremacists

The activists (pictured left to right: Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Henry Schwerner) had visited Meridian, Mississippi to speak with members of a recently burned church, and were on a campaign to encourage the black community to vote. The group was harassed by local enforcement during their time in the town: they were arrested on a traffic violation, held for several hours, and followed by police for some time after their release. Before they were able to leave the county, they were pulled over, abducted, shot at close range, and buried. Their vehicle was found burnt three days later; their bodies were discovered two months after their disappearance thanks to a tip-off.


The burned chasis of a station wagon used by three missing civil rights workers is towed from a swamp near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where it was found abandoned. [Source: New York Journal American Photographic Morgue]

During their investigation, the FBI found some members of the local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were involved in the abduction and murders. Several men from town were arrested for being part of the lynch mob, though the State of Mississippi refused to charge the men of the murders. A federal trial was started in 1967, with a handful of men involved being convicted, their sentences ranging from 3-10 years; none served more than 6 years.

Morgue attendants and law enforcement officials at the University Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, go about the grim task of unloading one of three bodies presumed to be the remains of the three missing civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. [Source: New York Journal American Photographic Morgue]

Two FBI agents examine debris near the burned-out station wagon of three missing civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi.[Source: New York Journal American Photographic Morgue]

Two men not convicted — though strongly implicated — were sheriff-candidate E.G. Barnett and minister Edgar Ray Killen whose jury deadlocked. (It was later revealed the jury deadlocked because a single juror stated she “could never convict a preacher.”) Killen was retried in 2005 and on June 21, the 41st anniversary of the murders, was convicted of 3 counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 60 years in prison. He died on January 11, 2018.

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