Michael Schwerner died June 21st 1964
in defense of liberty and justice for all. They were no less American heroes than those who die in battle for this democracy and its ideals.
This August marks the 48th Anniversary of the discovery of the bodies of these three young civil rights workers who were murdered in Philadelphia Mississippi by members of the KKK for organizing black voters.
Norman Rockwell who painted the most bucolic and iconic images of America at that time was so moved by the murders he abandoned his customary style and rendered a painting he titled "Southern Justice" also known as "Murder in Mississippi". It depicts in stark monotones the last minutes of the three Freedom Riders.
Some of the participants were tried but the leader of the conspiracy a Southern Baptist minister was not tried until forty one years later. In 2005 Edgar Ray Killien was found guilty on three counts of manslaughter on June 21st the forty first anniversary of the crime.
The incident took place during the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, James Chaney, 21, a young black man from Meridian Mississippi and Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, two white men from New York, were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Edgar Ray Killen, along with Cecil Price, then deputy sheriff of Neshoba County, was found to have assembled a group of armed men who conspired, pursued and killed these three civil rights workers.
These Mississippi civil rights workers murders was the final brutal act of oppression that galvanized the nation and helped bring about the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Reverend Al Sharpton gave a stirring speech that best evoked the sacrifice that theses young men made and what it meant to generations of disenfranchised voters at the 2004 Democratic Convention when he said: "... the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us.
This vote can't be bargained away.
This vote can't be given away.
Mr. President, in all due respect, Mr. President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale.