Blog Post

Torn in Two

            “If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery—skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment” (Hartman 11). Although slavery and segregation was abolished by the 1960s, many southern states were filled with white supremacists whose main goal was to maintain racial segregation in their states. “‘The majority of white Mississippians were content with maintaining the status quo and both whites and blacks in Mississippi observed the Jim Crow laws of the era. Blacks who attempted to register to vote were often subjected to fines imprisonment, and even physical punishment. Those arriving to support the civil rights and work toward changing the situation were considered ‘outside agitators’ by most’ ”(qtd in Walton 31).This had been the fate of three young civil rights activists on their way to Mississippi. On June 21,1965, three men Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by members of the Klu Klux Klan, buried and found 44 days later. During those forty-four days, the press coverage of the tragic event was not all the same. The South portrayed the story one way while Northern states viewed the murders completely differently. My research focuses on newspapers and articles that indicate the perspective of the press in southern states on the murders of civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner contrary to the perspective of the press in the Northern states.This was the case when a nation was separated by those that viewed the end of racial segregation as evil and those that viewed it as the correct thing to do. 

            As the news of the disappearance of the three civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner spread, southern states speculated that the disappearance was a hoax. In Mississippi, headlines of the newspaper Meridian Star on June 23, 1964 read, “‘Clueless Trail’ is Left By Interracial Trio’”(qtd in Walton 35). This headline alludes to the idea that the three young men purposely disappeared or that they were hiding out somewhere. And that the authorities were searching for three men that purposely disappeared. There is no reason for three people whose main purpose was to investigate the burning of a church and help others in the Summer Freedom campaign to purposely disappear. Therefore, there was no reason for the press to make assumptions over such incident. Contrary to headlines of the south, the New York Times headline read, “Murder In Mississippi”.“The discovery of the bodies of the three civil rights workers confirms the awful fears that arose when they first disappeared in Mississippi six weeks ago. Triple murder, by foul and violent means, has been committed”(Times 28). While southern newspaper viewed the disappearance of the three men as a hoax, the northern press viewed the murders as “monstrous”. It took the crime extremely serious. From the beginning there was mention of foul play and violence associated to their disappearance. Not only did the newspaper report the murders, but also placed emphasis on the little effort that was done by Mississippi officials. The article reads “The champions of the white supremacy and the defenders of the states rights in Mississippi have shown much less resolve than Northern officials in making clear that they do not condone resort to violence or terror by either side in the civil rights conflict. If they fail to honor the Governor’s pledge, the federal government will have no choice but to do the job”(Times 28). Mississippi’s negative views of integration are well known throughout the nation. The article continues by stating, “ Mississippi cannot declare itself off limits to the rest of the nation, nor can the rest of the nation regard Mississippi as something separate and apart”. The facts of the crime were reported as they were and how they were without speculation of any kind. 

Furthermore, in a New York Times article titled “Opinion Of the Week: At Home and Abroad” published June 28, 1964, the Timespublishes things being said by other southern state newspapers on the murder. From Charleston, South Carolina it was said, “If three rights invaders have met with foul play in Mississippi … race propagandists will make the most of it… The motivation behind the Mississippi invasion is a subject of deep concern… The youths in training are mere dupes in a sinister game”. This southern press clearly shines a negative shadow on the tragedy of these men. The use of words such as invaders and race propagandists demonstrate the authors view on the victims. There is doubt on the purpose or presence of these three young men in the state. In the northern newspapers, there is no indication of invasions, the victims are not seen as intruders or doing harm to the state. Instead the press describes that their motive for being there was to investigate a church burning and to help others vote. They were described as intruders, trespassers, as well as agitators, referring to their presence in the state as a concern and invasion by southern press. Additionally, Virginia says, “There can be no possible excuse for violence in Mississippi, or for the suspected murder of the three missing college-age demonstrators. If they have, in fact been murdered… the guilty parties must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. But it would be heartening if there were comparable Federal concern over continuous and unremitting violence against white by Negroes in the North and West… We sympathize with the citizens of the Deep South who are being overrun this summer with diverse varieties of emotiona do-gooders whose backyards are badly in need of a thorough cleaning”(qtd in Times). While the mention of punishment for committing a crime is stated, the press creates doubt and supports the idea to the reader that the disappearance was a hoax by once again selective wording. The Virginian press makes the citizens of southern states seem like the real victims due to the number of civil rights activists arriving to the southern states to make changes. Then proceeded to accuse the government of not using their power to bring justice to other cases. As if acts against white people were being ignored and this case given high importance. Again, creating a negative perspective on the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. Contrary to the headlines, the North had a completely different perspective on the disappearance of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. There were no indications of a hoax by the civil rights workers or the mention of gaining publicity for the civil rights movement. Instead the articles reported information as they occurred. The June 23, 1964 issue published by the New York Times titled "3 in Rights Drive Reported Missing” gave insight on the activities of the men before the disappearance. The article also stated, “Leaders of the drive said they feared that the three men- two whites, both from New York, and one Negro- had met with foul play”(Sitton). The article’s main focus was the disappearance. Many knew of the horrific crimes that occurred in southern states with the Ku Klux and others that opposed integration. 

The press plays an important role on how the audience may see an event. As seen with this tragic event, the southern and northern states viewed the murders of three civil right activists completely different, although the evidence was clearly there. One portrayed it as a hoax while the other viewed it as it was. It was a crime, murder, and violence toward a group of people trying to make a change in the nation. Decades later Edgar Ray Killen was sentenced on January 7, 2005 for their murders and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Justice had finally been served for the murders of Andrew Good man, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. 




Works Sited

Hartman, Saidiya V. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.


"Opinion of the Week: At Home and Abroad." New York Times (1923-Current file) Jun 28 1964: 1. ProQuest. 3 Dec. 2015.



Sitton, Claude . "3 IN RIGHTS DRIVE REPORTED MISSING." New York Times (1923-Current file) Jun 23 1964: 1. ProQuest. 4 Dec. 2015.


Walton, Laura Richardson. "In Their Own Backyard: Local Press Coverage Of The Chaney, Goodman, And Schwerner Murders." American Journalism 23.3 (2006): 29-51. America: History & Life. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.


No comments