JACKSON, Miss. — For the first time, 57 years after their killings, never-before-seen case files, pictures, and other evidence chronicling the investigation into the notorious slayings of three civil rights workers in Mississippi are finally available to the public.
The assassinations of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County in 1964 provoked national indignation and aided in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They were later included in the film “Mississippi Burning.”
The previously sealed papers, which date from 1964 to 2007, were handed from the Mississippi attorney general’s office to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2019. They are currently on display in the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson, where they have been since last week.
Case files, Federal Bureau of Investigation memos, research notes, federal informant reports, and witness testimony are among the records. According to a statement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, there are additional pictures of the victims’ remains being exhumed and subsequent autopsies, as well as aerial photographs of the burial location.
The attorney general’s research files are kept in Series 2870, FBI memoranda are kept in Series 2902, and pictures are kept in Series 2903.
When the three Freedom Summer volunteers, all in their twenties, vanished in June 1964, they were investigating the fire of a black church in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
They were detained on a traffic charge by a deputy sheriff in Philadelphia, who subsequently released them once a mob was alerted. Before their remains were dug up and recovered weeks later in an earthen dam, Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their abduction was a fabrication, and segregationist Sen. Jim Eastland informed President Lyndon Johnson it was a “publicity stunt.”
The inquiry was revived by the Mississippi Attorney General’s office in 2004. Edgar Ray Killen, a 1960s Ku Klux Klan leader and Baptist preacher, was convicted of manslaughter in June 2005 as a result of this.
Witnesses stated during Killen’s state prosecution in 2005 that on June 21, 1964, he traveled to Meridian to collect up carloads of klansmen in order to ambush Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, asking some of the klan members to carry plastic or rubber gloves. Witnesses stated Killen then went to a funeral home in Philadelphia as an alibi while the fatal attack was taking place.
In 2018, Killen died in jail. In 2016, Mississippi’s then-Attorney General, Jim Hood, declared the inquiry concluded.