Case recordsdata on 1964 civil rights employee killings made public

JACKSON, miss. – Unprecedented case files, photos and other records documenting the investigation into the infamous murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi are now available to the public for the first time 57 years after their death.

The 1964 killings of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County sparked national outrage and helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They later became the subject of the film “Mississippi Burning”.

The previously sealed materials – dating from 1964 to 2007 – were transferred to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History by the Mississippi Attorney General in 2019. Since last week they have been available to the public in the William F. Winter Archives. and history building in Jackson.

The records include case files, Federal Bureau of Investigation memoranda, research notes, and reports from federal informants and testimony. According to a statement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, there are also photos of the exhumation of the bodies and the subsequent autopsies as well as aerial photographs of the burial site.


The collection is kept in three catalog entries: the 2870 series contains the Attorney General’s research files, the 2902 series contains the FBI memos, and the 2903 series contains the photographs.

The three Freedom Summer workers, all in their 20s, were investigating a fire in a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi, when they disappeared in June 1964.

An assistant sheriff in Philadelphia arrested her on a traffic penalty and then released her after alerting a mob. The then-governor of Mississippi claimed their disappearance was a hoax, and segregationist Senator Jim Eastland told President Lyndon Johnson it was a “publicity stunt” before their bodies were dug up and found in an earth dam weeks later.

In the 1967 case, 19 men were charged with federal charges. Seven were convicted of violating the civil rights of the victims. None served more than six years.

In 2004, the Mississippi Attorney General resumed the investigation. This led to the June 2005 conviction of Edgar Ray Killen, a 1960s Ku Klux Klan leader and Baptist minister, of manslaughter.


During his state trial in 2005, witnesses testified that Killen went to Meridian on June 21, 1964 to round up truckloads of Klanmen to ambush Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, and ordered some of the Klan members to wear plastic or rubber gloves bring with you. Witnesses said Killen then went to a funeral home in Philadelphia as an alibi while the fatal attack was taking place.

Killen died in prison in 2018. The then Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood officially closed the investigation in 2016.

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