- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) — Gov. Haley S. Barbour and other politicians joined hundreds of people yesterday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the slayings of three civil rights workers and support reopening an investigation into their deaths.

The memorial service brought about 1,500 people to honor James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and to focus on what former Mississippi Gov. William Winter called “the unending work of racial reconciliation.”

“It involves doing the things in every aspect of our lives … that will break down the barriers that continue to separate us,” he said.

The state never brought murder charges in the 1964 killings in Neshoba County, although seven Klansmen were convicted on federal civil rights violations. None served more than six years.

The Philadelphia Coalition, which sponsored the memorial, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood are pushing for the investigation to be reopened to track down those who aided the killers. Mr. Hood has said that he needs help from federal authorities, who are reviewing the matter.

“It’s important that justice be done for history’s sake,” said Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and a leader of the civil rights movement who was among three congressmen at the memorial.

Mr. Barbour, a Republican, said he supports reopening the investigation.

“If they can make a case, if they can come up with the evidence, then obviously it should be reopened,” he said.

Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Mississippi, and Goodman, 20, and Schwerner, 24, both white men from New York, were part of the “Freedom Summer” program in which young civil rights workers organized voter education and registration campaigns.

The three disappeared when they went to investigate a fire at a church. Several weeks later, their bodies, beaten and shot, were found buried in an earthen dam a few miles from the church.

Ben Chaney, the younger brother of Chaney, boycotted the event yesterday, saying organizers were circumventing the efforts of church leaders, who have been memorializing the civil rights workers for decades.

Mr. Chaney, who is leading a caravan of 29 volunteers on a two-week voter-registration drive to teach about the civil rights movement, said he wanted nothing to do with the Philadelphia Coalition — and even requested that it stop using his brother’s name.

“They have perpetrated a fraud and desecrated the history of my brother,” Mr. Chaney said.

Coalition member Leroy Clemons said it had planned to include Mr. Chaney’s group in the events, but that Mr. Chaney apparently reconsidered sometime before the memorial yesterday.

“We have gone above and beyond to make this work,” Mr. Clemons said.

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