“We took care of your three friends tonight and you’re next”
In the summer of 1964 a Freedom School was being built on the site of the Mount Zion Union Methodist Church in Mississippi which had been firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan and James Earl Chaney, 21, Michael Henry Schwerner, 24, and Andrew Goodman, 20, were helping. They left the church when they were stopped and arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price for driving at more than 56 kph (35 mph). At 10.30pm, Chaney was fined $20 for the traffic offence and the three men were ordered to leave Mississippi.
A mob was waiting for them and the three men were never seen alive again. At 2am the next day Buford Posey, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People received a telephone call from Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist preacher who doubled as chaplain for the local Ku Klux Klan.
He said, “We took care of your three friends tonight and you’re next.” Mr Posey called the FBI. The bodies of the three were found in an earthen dam on Olen Burrage’s Old Jolly Farm, Neshoba County, on 4 August 1964. All three had been shot. Their burnt-out blue Ford station wagon was dumped in the Bogue Chitto swamp. James Jordan, a member of the Klan, co¬operated with the G-men believing that no jury could be found in the state that would convict those responsible for the murders.
Philadelphia, Mississippi, USA
Sunday 21 June 1964
In November 1965 the FBI brought charges against 15 men, not of murder, but of conspiracy to deprive the victims of their civil rights. On 20 October 1967 James Jordan and Deputy Sheriff Price were among seven convicted and sentenced to four and six years respectively. Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Edgar Ray Killen were among eight acquitted.
The story did not end there. The story was made into the film Mississippi Burning in 1988. Deputy Sheriff Price died on 6 May 2001, aged 74 . Ironically, he died in the same hospital that carried out autopsies on the three civil rights workers he helped murder. Sheriff Rainey died on 8 November 2002, aged 79. On 6 January 2005, 11 days before his 80th birthday, Edgar Ray Killen was arrested on three charges of murder.
On 21 June 2005 he was found guilty of manslaughter. Unrepentant, he labelled the three civil rights workers as communists who threatened Mississippi’s way of life. He was sentenced to three terms of 20 years to be served consecutively. The earliest date Killen can be released is 22 January 2035 when he will be 110 years and five days old.