In 1968 Richard Holler wrote the folk ballad “Abraham, Martin and John”. It was recorded by Dion (Dion DiMucci).
It reflects on the deaths of President Abraham Lincoln, President John F. Kennedy, Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. In the first stanza it says,
Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
You know I just looked around and he’s gone…
1968 was a tragic year for this planet traversing the cosmos. This was especially true in the USA where student protests over the Vietnam War were increasing. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy happened a few months apart.
However, back in 1964 another triple assassination had taken place in a small hamlet of Philadelphia in Mississippi. Three young Civil rights activists were murdered or assassinated on June 21, 1964.
Who were these three brave souls?
Andrew Goodman was a twenty-year-old Anthropology college student from New York. His aspirations were to be an actor, but activism was in his blood when he joined the Freedom Summer project to register black voters in Mississippi.
Michael Schwerner was a twenty-four-year-old graduate student in Social Work from New York. He and his wife Rita left New York in January 1964 for Meridian, Mississippi. In Michael’s view, Mississippi
“is the decisive battleground for America. Nowhere in the world is the idea of white supremacy more firmly entrenched, or more cancerous, than in Mississippi.”
Michael’s zeal aroused the ever-watching eye of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) regional leadership. A death decree was issued against him.
The animosity of the Southerners toward the Northerners, whom they viewed as agitators, had its roots in the pre-Civil War. The thousands of young Northerners swooping into the South with their ideals of brotherhood and equal rights was to these Southerners the Civil War all over again. To them it was a war against their chosen way of life.
The third person was James Chaney, a twenty-year-old African-American from Meridian who worked in the CORE Office in Meridian (Congress of Racial Equality). He became Michael Schwerner’s most valuable assistant.
James and Michael went to Oxford, Ohio for a conference. It was there Andrew Goodman joined them.
When they received the news that the Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi had been burned by the KKK, they drove back to Meridian. What happened after they arrived in Meridian is another sad chapter of American history.
On the night of Sunday, June 21, 1964 the three young men were murdered. James Chaney was tortured before he was killed.
Sunday, June 21 was Father’s Day. The men who participated in this vicious crime were fathers, brothers, uncles and sons who in cold blood took the lives of three young men who wanted to change the culture so that African-Americans could vote and be treated like anyone else in their communities.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered the FBI to investigate. A number of agents descended on the Meridian community.
The three bodies were not discovered until August 4. Unfortunately, justice for the victims was never fully realized.
The film Mississippi Burning from 1988with Gene Hackman and William Defoe is a fictionalized version of this incident. It shows the definite clash between South and North (Hackman and Defoe).
For Michael, Andrew and James their lives ended before they could reach their full potential. Their deaths were not in vain since a number of people in the North and South were horrified when the details of their deaths were revealed.
Going back to the song,
Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon, it’s gonna be one day
These young men did what they believed to be right. The 1960s was a time of change in the USA, and Michael, Andrew and James were in the middle of those changes.
Their sacrifice on the altar of ignorance, prejudice and hatred was one of previous innocent blood. From that altar a new order of society was born.
Going back to the song, the last stanza
Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John
Perhaps, Michael, Andrew and James took the same walk on that hill of legacy with Abraham and John before Martin and Bobby joined them with the thousands who gave their lives for others. The human race is one race.
We share the same genetic make-up. We share the same blood.
The struggle for equality is never ending. Equality is not something inherited, it is something earned by the blood of those who went before and the constant vigilance of those today who maintain the struggle on this orb hanging in infinite majesty.
Freedom riders are always needed in a society’s darkest hour. The darkness of our times summons those with the courage to place their all on the line for those who are oppressed.
G. D. Williams © 2014
Andrew Goodman ((November 23, 1943 – June 21, 1964)
Michael Schwerner (November 6, 1939 – June 21, 1964)
James Chaney (May 30, 1943 – June 21, 1964)
The remains of three civil rights workers whose disappearance on June 21 garnered national attention are found buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, had traveled to heavily segregated Mississippi in 1964 to help organize civil rights efforts on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The third man, James Chaney, was a local African American man who had joined CORE in 1963. The disappearance of the three young men led to a massive FBI investigation that was code-named MIBURN, for “Mississippi Burning.”
During the summer of 1964, thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, descended on Mississippi and other Southern states to try to end the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region. Although black men had won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise that right. White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings. The inability to vote was only one of many problems blacks encountered in the racist society around them, but the civil-rights officials who decided to zero in on voter registration understood its crucial significance as well the white supremacists did. An African American voting bloc would be able to effect social and political change.
Historic Photos from Freedom Summer in Newseum’s Collection
Dion”s Abraham, Martin and John
Simon and Garfunkel’s He Was My Brother ( dedicated to Andrew Goodman )
The True Story of Mississippi Burning
1964 NBC Special Report