Excerpt from a Look Into Black Catholic History

from website: www.unitycoalition.org


“In June of 1964, three Civil Rights Workers, one Black Catholic Mississippian and two White Jewish New Yorkers were reported missing in Mississippi. No one seriously believed they would be seen alive again.


James Earl Chaney was born on Mary 30, 1943 in racially segregated and economically depressed Meridian, Mississippi. He attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School from kindergarten to ninth grade, where as a devout Black Catholic he was active in church functions and an Altar-boy for Sunday Mass. He attended Harris Jr. College High School where, despite being slight in build and severely asthmatic, he was captain of both the football and track teams. Early on, James became involved in the struggle for civil and human rights. In 1958, at age 15, he and two young members of the local NAACP participated in a recruiting program by wearing paper badges inscribed with the letters "N-A-A-C-P" on them to school. The school principal, fearful of reprisals from the all-white school board, attempted to halt the political consciousness-raising of black students.

He suspended James and the other young organizers for a week and threatened suspension of any student who wore the NAACP badges.


In 1962, at age 19, while working as an apprentice in a trade union, James became involved in the "Freedom Bus Rides." He boarded a Trailways bus in Tennessee enroute to Greenville, Mississippi. James' father met him at the bus station and ushered him away from the bus and the brutality of the segregationists. He severely scolded James for his political adventurism. Later that year, James went on a bus from Greenville to Meridian. The bus was escorted out of the city limits by police. Upon arriving in Meridian, the "Freedom Riders" were threatened with arrest and warned, for their safety, not to loiter around the bus station or attempt to integrate the lunch counter where crowds of segregationists waited. In late 1963, at age 20, unable to maintain a peripheral involvement in the struggle for human dignity, James joined Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

and began organizing voter education classes in Meridian. He served as liaison to Michael Schwerner, the director of the Meridian office of the Congress of Federated Organizations (COFO), and was responsible for COFO’s Voter Education program in the backward, Ku Klux Klan stronghold counties of southeast and east central Mississippi.


By mid-1964, James had earned the trust and respect of church leaders at the Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale and convinced them to allow Michael to speak at their church. After many meetings, James, Michael and the church leaders made plans for the church to be used as a training site for voter registration classes for the disenfranchised Black community in Neshoba County. On June 16, 1964, armed members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan "fire bombed" the Mount Zion Methodist

Church. Not until one week later, June 21, did James and Michael have a chance to investigate the ruins of the Mount Zion church. With them was Andrew Goodman, a young Jewish volunteer from New York, who was to coordinate the Neshoba county voter registration project. After their investigation, the three civil rights workers visited some of the

parishioners who were beaten by the Ku Klux Klan on the night of the fire bombing. On their way back to Meridian, they were stopped by a Neshoba County sheriff’s deputy and turned over to the Ku Klux Klan. They were murdered and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam. The forty-four day search for their bodies was national and massive. The body of James was a "mangled mass." The injuries, aside form the bullet holes, resembled what "could only occur in a high speed airplane crash." "THE NIGGER WAS FOUND ON TOP" read the headline of the August 5, 1964 issue of the Meridian Star.


These young men’s lives were shortened by terrorist members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were opposed to their efforts to register African Americans to vote and ensure a fair elective process in Mississippi. These Klansmen, in written statements, confessed to the murders, but to this day have yet to be arrested, charged, tried or convicted for their acts.

The state of Mississippi has failed to act.


Acting out of his deep belief in human rights, James Earl Chaney was a Black American who sacrificed his life to educate the poor and the disenfranchised in the procedures of our democratic system and the voting process.                                                          


There are those who are alive yet will never live, There are those who are dead yet will live forever, Great deeds inspire and encourage the living.

Inscription on the grave of James Earl Chaney May 30, 1943 - June 21, 1964