It is time for the sun to shine through the clouds’

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 21, 2004

Dick Molpus, left, laughs with Carolyn Goodman, mother of slain Andrew Goodman, as Charles Davis looks on after the memorial service entitled, “Recognition, Resolution, Redemption: Uniting for Justice,” Sunday in Neshoba County.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[6/21/04]PHILADELPHIA, Miss. Dick Molpus said he thought a day like Sunday would never come to Neshoba County.

Molpus joined others in hailing a memorial service as a breakthrough event toward better days for the central Mississippi community that has borne the legacy of the cold-blooded murders of three civil rights workers for 40 years.

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“It is time for the sun to shine through the clouds,” said Molpus, a Neshoba native and former Mississippi secretary of state. “The power of human understanding has been shown by everyone here today.”

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner died on Rock Cut Road at the hands of a band of Ku Klux Klansmen on June 21, 1964. Memorials have been held every year, including last year when attendance was about 150 people.

Sunday, more than 1,500 blacks, whites and Choctaws gathered at the Neshoba County Coliseum for the service where speakers included activists of the 1960s and political leaders of today.

Impetus for the day’s events came from the Philadelphia Coalition, a new 30-member multi-racial task force.

Coalition member James Young, who is also the president of the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors, said Sunday he would no longer allow the events of 1964 cloud his view of his home.

“What was done 40 years ago was done by ignorant people,” he said. “The profiling stops today. N-E-S-H-O-B-A, a place I’m proud to be from.”

Sensitivity does remain because the state has not charged anyone with murder for killing the trio. Seven members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted on federal charges in 1967.

Chaney, a native of Meridian, Schwerner and Goodman, both New Yorkers, were volunteers during the Freedom Summer program in which civil rights workers tried to register blacks to vote. They were in Philadelphia investigating the destruction of Mount Zion Methodist Church, which had been burned by Klansmen four days earlier.

Fifteen years ago, Molpus, then-secretary of state, issued the first public acknowledgement and apology for the deaths of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Many people credit that statement for energizing a push for justice in the case.

Molpus said people of Neshoba County have learned many lessons during the past 40 years. Now they must spread their knowledge to other people across the nation who struggle with similar problems.

“We have learned that our enemies are not each other,” he said. “Our enemies are ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, disease, racism, lack of support for the public schools, teen pregnancy and dropout. Those are our enemies.”

Molpus encouraged people in the crowd with information about the murders to come forward and tell it to prosecutors.

“Now is the time to liberate those dark secrets,” he said.

Sayle Johnson of Meridian said he felt obligated and compelled to attend the memorial service.

“I’m not as old as some, but I experience what some of them went through,” he said. “But I want to do my part to help.”

He said he went away impressed that everyone was on the same accord and want to move forward with reconciliation and justice.

Many of the speakers called for an end to the lack of action by law enforcement and the judicial system.

Gov. Haley Barbour said if enough evidence exists, then the case should be reopened. He also said the situation had been ignored too long.

“You have to face up to your problems before you can solve them,” he said.

On May 26, the coalition issued a resolution calling for justice in the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Two days later, Mississippi Attorney Jim Hood said he asked the Justice Department for assistance in the case.

Since then, the city of Philadelphia, the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association and the Magnolia Bar Association have joined in the fight.

Former Gov. William Winter said Sunday was a day of liberation for everyone whites and blacks. Honoring the memory of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner freed white people because their deaths made others aware of the hazardous climate of the ’60s.

“We were not free to say what we really wanted to say,” Winter said. “We were not free to associate with whom we wanted to associate with. We were all prisoners of a terrible system based on racism.”

He said now people could work to build a united community and nation because they were free of the old system.

Jim Prince, the coalition’s co-chair and editor of the Neshoba Democrat, said the most memorable moment of the day was when Carolyn Goodman, Andrew’s mother, said it felt good for her to be in Neshoba County.

“That to me is worth it all,” Prince said. “If she can feel good about being here, then we have accomplished much.”

Prince said to hear her say that was a true reconciliation. Though the residents of Philadelphia initiated the healing process, to have Carolyn Goodman accept the apology was humbling.

Goodman spoke to a capacity crowd of about 100 people at the church. She said her son did not give his life for the civil rights cause; rather, he lost it working for something he believed in.

“There are so many wonderful things happening all over the world,” she said. “There are groups and coalitions all over the world that are remembering this month and today. That means that people care and young people have a vision.”

Many speakers challenged the crowd to be active in the rights the trio promoted, such as voting, and continue the battle against racism and inequality.

“You must do what you can to make your contribution so the deaths of these three young men would not be in vain,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “You have a mission an obligation and a mandate to build, what we called in the ’60s, a beloved community a community at peace with itself.”

The day carried a strong religious tone throughout out the speakers. Officials from four different Christian denominations and a rabbi spoke during the ceremony.

“It had the effect of a bomb, like an atomic bomb,” Methodist Bishop Clay Lee said of the summer of the murders and the search for the victims’ bodies. “It had all the effects of a radioactive fallout, only the fallout was hate, bigotry and fear.”

Prince said Sunday was a special day for Mississippi and the nation. “Only in the new heaven and the new earth will we truly see peace.” Prince said. “But I think we get a glimpse of it with days like today.”