Mississippi Burning Murders: The KKK And Local Sheriff Killed Three Civil Rights Activists Helping People Vote In 1964

By Grace Taylor
Missing persons poster created by the FBI in 1964, signed by Director J. Edgar Hoover. (Federal Bureau of Investigation/Wikimedia Commons)

On June 21, 1964, three young men mysteriously disappeared off a country road just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, never to be seen or heard from again. Although their burned and empty car was found only three days later, the local Philadelphia Police Department as well as the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office did little to find the missing persons. Because the three men—Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner—were Civil Rights activists, the Federal Bureau of Investigations quickly became suspicious and stepped in to take over the case. What would become known as the Mississippi Burning Murders rocked the nation, moved the Civil Rights movement further into mainstream American thinking as outrage finally turned into action, and even inspired the 1988 movie of the same name.

A Fateful Traffic Stop

The summer of '64 was known as the Freedom Summer in Mississippi, when young activists of all races sought out to improve voter turnout, specifically among the disenfranchised black population who faced a litany of obstacles to voter registration and sometimes violence at the hands of white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. Goodman and Schwerner had traveled from New York to stay and work with their fellow activist, Chaney, in Meridian, Mississippi after they heard that the black-run Mount Zion Methodist Church, also a voter registration site, had been burned down. The three men drove to the nearby town of Philadelphia to investigate, but on the way home, Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price pulled them over for speeding.