Mississippi Burning Case Officially Closes After Half A Century, On The 52nd Anniversary

Officials in Mississippi after more than half a century are closing the Mississippi Burning case, in which three civil rights workers were kidnapped and murdered. On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, had volunteered for the Mississippi Summer Project and were trying to help register African American voters at the time of their disappearances in Neshoba county, Mississippi.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, said, “It’s just gotten to the point that it’s 52 years later and we’ve done all we can do.” Hood continued, according to The Clarion-Ledger,”The decision “closes a chapter” in the state’s divisive civil rights history. For these participants, the good Lord will have to deal with that.”

“The case had been investigated three times by the Justice Department over the past 52 year and helped convict nine individuals for their roles in this heinous crime,” according to Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, reported by FOX News.

The Mississippi case gained notoriety with the 1988 movie, “The Mississippi Burning.” The film won several awards including an Academy Award for best cinematography, via IMDb.

The burned out station wagon of slain civil rights workers The burned out station wagon of slain civil rights workers [Photo by FBI/State of Mississippi Attorney General’s Office via Getty Images]Schwerner visited Mount Zion Church in May 1964. He had been interested in the the church for a “Freedom School.”

Then, on June 16, while Mount Zion Church was holding a business meeting in the evening, members of the Klan surround the church and waited. 30 men surrounded the church and waited. Klan members were armed with rifles and shot guns. As the members of the church left they were confronted and attacked by Klan members.

As the members of the church were being attacked, some Klan members went to a car and grabbed approximately 10 gallons of gasoline. The Klan members entered the church and doused the inside of the building with gasoline and ignited it.

Schwerner heard what happened and went back to church with Chaney and Goodman. They wanted to investigate what happened at the church and talk to the members who had been at the church at the time of the fire. The three found out from church members that the Klan was looking for them.

Mississippi Burning marker near the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Mississippi Burning marker near the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church [Photo by Marianne Todd/Getty Images]Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman decided they were going to leave Mississippi and took Highway 16. Little did they know that Deputy Sheriff Price would spot them or that he was a Klan member, on the highway he pulled them over. Deputy Sheriff Price decided to arrest the three civil rights workers on suspicion of the church fire and bring them to the Neshoba County jail.

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were held for 7 hours in the jail before they were released and told to leave. The three drove their car, escorted by Deputy Sheriff Price toward the state line. Deputy Sheriff Price had left them and then came back, and started chasing them again. Chaney who was driving at the time, pulled over the car.

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman got out of their car and went into Deputy Sheriff Price’s vehicle. As the civil rights worker was in the vehicle, more cars pulled up and followed them. The other cars followed Deputy Sheriff Price down a dirt road.

Schwerner was shot in the head first, then Goodman, and then Chaney. The three were reported missing to the FBI, who started an investigation of the civil rights workers’ disappearance.

The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were found at a dam site at Old Jolly farm.

Civil Rights Murders 1964 Investigators Mississippi, July of 1964. [Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers via Getty Images]James Jorden, a Klu Klux Klan member, became a FBI informant and helped with the case. Jordan decided to help the state to avoid a prison sentence himself. The FBI promised Jordan that they would relocate him and his family.

In 1964, 16 men were arrested and charged for the disappearance and murder of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman in Mississippi.

A trial began in October 1967. Only seven people were convicted: Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, Sam Bowers, Wayne Roberts, Jimmy Snowden, Billy Wayne Posey, and Horace Barnett. Seven others were acquitted and for two others, no verdict was reached.

In 2005, one more arrest was made in the case. Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old man known as “The Preacher,” was arrested in Mississippi and brought in front of a grand jury for questioning. He was the first person to be arrested in the case after 41 years, via The Washington Post.

Edgar Ray Killen Convicted For The Mississippi Burning Edgar Ray Killen, 80, found guilty on three counts of manslaughter [Photo by Marianne Todd/Getty Images]Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for the death of the three civil rights workers and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his part in the Mississippi Burning case, as reported by CNN News.

After 52 years, the Mississippi Burning case has become a dark part of American history.

[Photo by Marianne Todd/Getty Images]