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FBI files reveal final moments in lives of three civil rights workers killed in ‘Mississippi Burning’ case

On the 60th anniversary of Mississippi’s infamous racially motivated triple murder, FBI file reveals disturbing details



<p>FBI</p>
<p> From left to right: murdered civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner.  ” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/7WqW_7ajg12LytHLGElPqA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTYzOQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/d6fd52d273fc786238 0599551eada449″/></p>
<p>FBI</p>
<p> From left to right: murdered civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner.  ” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/7WqW_7ajg12LytHLGElPqA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTYzOQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/d6fd52d273fc7862380 599551eada449″ class=”caas -img”/><button class=

FBI

From left to right: murdered civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner.

It started with a traffic stop. A black man riding with two white men was stopped by the deputy on charges of speeding.

In Philadelphia, Miss., on June 21, 1964, the three men in the car were an unlikely trio.

James Earl Chaney, a 21-year-old black Mississippian, had a 10th grade education and worked as a plasterer’s apprentice. The two white men – Michael Henry Schwerner, 24, and Andrew Goodman, 20 – were from New York City.

When local police apprehended the men – civil rights activists who had just visited the charred site of the Mount Zion Methodist Church, a black church that had burned to the ground earlier that month – they were already on the radar of the local Ku Klux Klan.

Around 3:30 p.m., Chaney was booked into custody for speeding, and Goodman and Schwerner were thrown into jail “for investigation,” federal investigators wrote.

In the early hours of the next morning, a resident drove past the burned remains of their blue station wagon. Flames later described by the witness as “ten to twelve feet high” according to a special agent’s report burst from nearby bushes, later giving federal investigators the infamous name for the case: Mississippi Burning, abbreviated to MIBURN.



<p>FBI</p>
<p> Authorities located the burned-out blue 1963 Ford station wagon on June 23, 1964. A witness later reported seeing the fire in the early morning of June 22.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api /res/1.2/zuHRiJPR25GXYgb.e1lPJg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/92fa5dde2f3aeef38da9ed8d3fd1fbfe”/></p>
<p>FBI</p>
<p> Authorities located the burned-out blue 1963 Ford station wagon on June 23, 1964. A witness later reported seeing the fire in the early morning of June 22.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api /res/1.2/zuHRiJPR25GXYgb.e1lPJg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/92fa5dde2f3aeef38da9ed8d3fd1fbfe” class=”caas-img”/><button class=

FBI

Authorities located the burned-out blue 1963 Ford station wagon on June 23, 1964. A witness later reported seeing the fire in the early morning of June 22.

What is known about the men’s final hours — at the hands of Mississippi police and local Ku Klux Klan members — is detailed in hundreds of pages of FBI files, which remain heavily redacted 60 years later and reviewed by PEOPLE are obtained.

While the men were behind bars, several local white men gathered at the Longhorn Drive-In to talk about two local Ku Klux Klan groups who joined forces to “whip” the men, James Edward Jordan, one of those men later turned over to the FBI.

Later, Jordan and others met with an individual whose identity is still recorded in official records, who told them, “We have a place to bury them and a man to drive the bulldozer to hide them.”



<p>FBI</p>
<p> Six weeks after the men were fatally shot, investigators recovered their bodies on a farm near Philadelphia, Miss., where a dam was under construction.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api /res/1.2/EzcT7ck0YRSamnCM.xEP7w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/e5d171655610f25d3d076099f27acf5d”/></p>
<p>FBI</p>
<p> Six weeks after the men were fatally shot, investigators recovered their bodies on a farm near Philadelphia, Miss., where a dam was under construction.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api /res/1.2/ezct7ck0yrsamncm.xep7w—/yxbwawq9aglnagxhbmrlcjt3ptk2mdopty0mq-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/218/e5d1755555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555d55575575555D5555755755755545575555 from ><button class=

FBI

Six weeks after the men were fatally shot, investigators recovered their bodies on a farm near Philadelphia, Miss., where a dam was under construction.

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Chaney’s $25 bail was posted and the three men were released from the Neshoba County Jail on June 21 around 10:30 p.m., and “according to prearranged plans” the “participants” in the attack were told that the Mississippi Highway Patrol was the civilian police would “intercept”. rights workers driving back in their blue station wagon, according to a story from the night later summarized by a special agent and based on interviews with employees.

Instead, a person whose name appears in the files stopped the men on Highway 492, “placed the three civil rights workers in the backseat of his car and drove them down a nearby country road,” according to the special agent’s account.

There the group that brought them from Philadelphia, Miss., killed them. .

Later, the group gathered with a jug of gasoline to set the 1963 Ford vehicle on fire.

The men’s bodies were later found 15 feet underground at the Neshoba County ranch on August 4. The men, whose bodies were laid out from head to toe, were identified by their fingerprints.



<p>FBI</p>
<p> Amid swirling rumors that the men staged their disappearance, their bodies – riddled with bullets – were found buried on a local farm later that summer.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api /res/1.2/IFbcz8qJDmJ1YEbJP9sLhA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTY0MDtoPTk2MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/a7e0749cb99844b3c3ecbb20f24598f5″/></p>
<p>FBI</p>
<p> Amid swirling rumors that the men staged their disappearance, their bodies – riddled with bullets – were found buried on a local farm later that summer.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api /res/1.2/IFbcz8qJDmJ1YEbJP9sLhA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTY0MDtoPTk2MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/a7e0749cb99844b3c3ecbb20f24598f5″ class=”caas-img”/ ></p></div>
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FBI

Amid swirling rumors that the men had staged their disappearance, their bodies – riddled with bullets – were found buried on a local farm later that summer.

The men knew that fighting for change – and registering black people to vote – was dangerous in Mississippi.

Schwerner had come to Mississippi to organize local boycotts and assist with voter registration in a state that at the time had registered only 6.7% of eligible black voters, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On June 16, local KKK members came to the Methodist church looking for Schwerner, but could not find him. That group beat church members and set the church on fire.

Goodman, a junior anthropology student at Queens College in New York, carried a salmon-colored piece of paper with the names of five people in New York City he could call if he needed to be released from a prison in Mississippi.

Living as a black man in a small town in Mississippi, Chaney was already a target before he donned a straw cowboy hat with Civil Rights Movement buttons and left home in the station wagon that morning.



<p>FBI</p>
<p> The charred remains of the civil rights workers’ Ford station wagon, the vehicle they were riding in when Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price pulled them over on June 21, 1964.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ e7CCfl99jgh1Bvj7.Iyk4w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/14de44e4738262d51e9b12c4708972ff”/></p>
<p>FBI</p>
<p> The charred remains of the civil rights workers’ Ford station wagon, the vehicle they were riding in when Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price pulled them over on June 21, 1964.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ e7CCfl99jgh1Bvj7.Iyk4w–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/people_218/14de44e4738262d51e9b12c4708972ff” class=”caas-img”/><button class=

FBI

The charred remains of the civil rights workers’ Ford station wagon, the vehicle they were riding in when Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price pulled them over on June 21, 1964.

An activist who called the Neshoba County Jail at 9 p.m. the day the men were arrested was told that: “No one of the descriptions he gave was being held,” another activist reported to the FBI, according to the files.

An hour and a half later, the men were released from prison, followed by their killers.

Schwerner’s young widow, Rita, was stalked around town as she searched for her husband.

Ultimately, 18 people — including Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and his deputy, Cecil Price, as well as Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist minister and founding member of the KKK in Philadelphia — were charged in connection with the murders.



<p>FBI</p>
<p> FBI agents escort Sheriff Lawrence Rainey to court in October 1964.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/QIwvXdKejApWo473E9SOkQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media. zenfs.com/en/people_218/3c1bb33088ae424847b81261888af5b9″/></p>
<p>FBI</p>
<p> FBI agents escort Sheriff Lawrence Rainey to court in October 1964.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/QIwvXdKejApWo473E9SOkQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media. zenfs.com/en/people_218/3c1bb33088ae424847b81261888af5b9″ class=”caas-img”/><button class=

FBI

FBI agents escort Sheriff Lawrence Rainey to court in October 1964.

In his closing statement, prosecutor John Doar told jurors that a not guilty verdict would “declare Neshoba County law as state law.” He added: “What you twelve people are doing here today will be remembered for a long time.”

On October 20, 1967, seven men were found guilty, although both the sheriff and the pastor went free.

Decades later, Killen was charged with murder in a so-called Southern “reconciliation trial” in 2005. A jury convicted him of three counts of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 60 years behind bars. The New York Times reported. He died in prison.

No one has ever been convicted of murder.

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