JUNE 21, 1964

A group of more than 20 Klansmen killed three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, south of Philadelphia, Mississippi. 

The three men had come as a part of Freedom Summer to register Black voters and work in the civil rights movement. Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers called on Klansmen to repel this “communist invasion” by counterattacking the movement leaders at night: 

“Any personal attacks on the enemy should be carefully planned to include only the leaders and prime white collaborators of the enemy forces,” he said.

The trio came to Neshoba County to investigate the KKK’s burning of a Black church and the beatings of members. On their return to Meridian, Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price jailed the trio and then released them into the hands of the waiting Klansmen who chased them down, executed them and buried their bodies 15 feet down in an earthen dam. 

Hundreds of FBI agents came to investigate the case, which the agency called “Mississippi Burning,” or MIBURN for short. Forty-four days later, agents found their bodies. In a 1967 federal trial, seven men were convicted on conspiracy charges with none serving more than six years in prison. Nobody was ever tried for murder until 2005 when Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of orchestrating the trio’s slayings. The conviction took place on the 41st anniversary of the killings.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.