Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in
The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
During what was known as the Freedom Summer of 1964, three young civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. The crime, given a low priority by local officials, resulted in a massive FBI investigation. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s prediction that justice would not be served proved prescient. Although 18 people were indicted on federal conspiracy charges in the deaths, with seven convicted, none was ever tried for murder. An excerpt from The Post of Dec. 5, 1964:
From News Dispatches
PHILADELPHIA, Miss., Dec. 4 --
The FBI climaxed one of its most intensive investigations today by arresting 21 persons -- including Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey and Deputy Cecil Ray Price -- in connection with the murder of three civil rights workers here last June.
The arrests began at dawn with a series of quick strikes by 50 FBI agents in several towns. The suspects were taken to the Naval Air Base at Meridian, which was sealed off in tight security. There the suspects were fingerprinted and photographed before arraignment.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announced the arrests in a statement released in Washington.
He pinpointed ten of the suspects, including Deputy Sheriff Price, as comprising the group that plotted the deaths of the civil rights workers.
These ten suspects were charged in a Federal complaint with conspiring "to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate" the three victims "in the free exercise and enjoyment of rights secured to them by the Constitution and the laws of the United States."
Maximum penalty would be a $5000 fine or 10 years in prison, or both.
The same charge, based on an 1870 civil rights law, was lodged against nine other suspects, including Sheriff Rainey; Frank J. Herndon, Exalted Cyclops of Unit No. 1, White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; Edgar Ray Killen, a "fire and brimstone" fundamentalist Baptist preacher, and Otha Neal Burkes, a member of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Two other suspects -- Earl Akin and Tommy A. Horne -- were charged with misprision of a felony (failure to report a crime). The Federal complaint states they knew about the murders but kept quiet about them. Maximum penalty is a $500 fine or three years in prison, or both.
The three civil rights workers, all of whom were shot to death, were James Earl Chaney, 21, a Negro from Meridian, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Henry Schwerner, 24. ...
As the County's top law officers were taken as prisoners to the waiting cars, several persons in the crowd shouted curses at the FBI agents. A photographer said he was threatened with a knife as he attempted to take a picture. ...
In New York, Dr. [Martin Luther] King held a news conference before flying to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He said the arrests renewed his faith in the FBI but he predicted, as did other Negro leaders, that it would be difficult to get convictions in Mississippi.
"I sincerely pray that justice rings in this situation and that the State of Mississippi will find its conscience and forthrightly declare that murder -- even if it is murder of a black man -- is unjust," he said.