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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 380

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This is the grave of Andrew Goodman.

Born in 1943 in New York, he grew up in a liberal Jewish family committed to social justice issues. After spending a short time at the University of Wisconsin, he transferred to Queens College. There he got involved in acting and became friends with a young songwriter named Paul Simon. He majored in drama but then switched to anthropology.

By 1964, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) efforts to secure voting rights for black people in rural Mississippi were struggling due to the fact that Mississippi whites were responding with maximum violence and whites in power didn’t care enough to do anything about it. So SNCC leaders came up with the idea of Freedom Summer, bringing northern white college students south to help organize voters and place bodies the nation cared about between the guns of Mississippi whites and local black residents. This was a heavily contested decision, with many SNCC members really opposed, in part because they believed northerners would come down and ignorantly and arrogantly tell local people what to do. But the project went ahead and after some reasonably heavy training sessions to try and acclimate these northern liberal kids to what they were really going to face, how local black people would see them, and how to behave in both meetings and with Mississippi citizens, it went ahead.

One of those idealistic students was Andrew Goodman. After training at Miami University in Ohio, he went to Mississippi. Goodman was registering voters with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. Schwerner was also from New York while Chaney was a local volunteer. On June 21, 1964, the three left Meridian to investigate a church bombing in Philadelphia, Mississippi. On their return, they were arrested by Neshoba County police, taken to jail, released, then the deputy sheriff, who was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, forced them off the road, turned them over to the KKK, who beat and murdered them and buried them in an earthen dam. After a federal investigation, their bodies were found, although no justice would come to the killers for many, many years. The sheriff and six others were found guilty of civil rights violations but not of murder.

This did what many civil rights leaders thought would happen–bring national attention to the death of white people. This of course led to a great deal of bitterness, as the media didn’t care when black people were shot and killed. But some wealthy white northerners? Well, that was a story! None of this takes away from the real work that Goodman and Schwerner did in coming South and working with people like Chaney. But it did help lead to the bitterness that eventually drove SNCC toward Black Power and eviction of white people from the organization.

Finally, in 2005, Edgar Lee Killen, who planned the killings, was arrested and found guilty of manslaughter. He died in prison earlier this year.

Andrew Goodman is buried in Mount Judah Cemetery, Queens, New York.

If you would like this series to cover other victims of heinous murders of civil rights workers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Michael Schwerner was cremated, but James Chaney is in Meridian, Mississippi and Viola Liuzzo, the Michigan woman murdered by white supremacists during the Selma marches, is in Southfield, Michigan. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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