Monthly Archive for June, 2012

Remembering NAACP v. Alabama

On June 30, 1958—54 years ago today—the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama took a stand in favor of individuals’ constitutional rights, asserting that Alabama’s demand for the NAACP’s membership lists violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1956, Alabama Attorney General John Patterson sued the NAACP, claiming that the civil rights organization violated a state law which required out-of-state companies to file their corporate charter with state officials and designate an agent to act on the company’s behalf.

After the NAACP refused to capitulate to a state judge’s orders to cease operations and produce records—including the names and addresses of its members—the organization was fined $10,000. While the NAACP was willing to turn over some records, it was unwilling to produce the membership lists.

After the Alabama Supreme Court twice refused to review the case, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments.

In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Alabama’s demand violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The disclosure of membership lists, the Court argued, would suppress legal association among the group’s members—in fact, earlier disclosures of member identities had led to loss of employment, physical coercion, and other hostile treatment.

The ruling read, in part:

Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association, as this Court has more than once recognized by remarking upon the close nexus between the freedoms of speech and assembly. . . It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the “liberty” assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech. . .

. . . This court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. . . Inviolability of privacy in group associations may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.

The Court did not rule on the legality of the NAACP’s work in Alabama, but it did overturn the contempt order and the fine. The decision signaled an important acknowledgement of the freedom of association, and paved the way for future success in the struggle against racial discrimination.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To read a news article printed at the time, click here.

To learn more, click here and here.

To learn more about the NAACP, click here.

To learn about the controversial John Patterson, who became Governor one year after NAACP v. Alabama, check out Gene Howard’s Patterson for Alabama: The Life and Career of John Patterson (University of Alabama Press, 2008).

To learn about African Americans’ struggle for civil rights during the next decade in Alabama, check out Frye Gaillard’s Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America (University of Alabama Press, 2004) and Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail (University of Alabama Press, 2010).

On This Day: Planned Parenthood v. Casey

On June 29, 1992—only twenty years ago today—the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey simultaneously reaffirmed and weakened its prior ruling in Roe v. Wade, ruling that although the state is prohibited from banning most abortions, it does have the authority to impose some regulations.

Ten years earlier, Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act put into effect regulations requiring women to give “informed consent” before abortions, forcing upon women a 24-hour waiting period, and requiring minors to obtain informed consent from a parent. Married women were required to inform their husband of their intention to abort the pregnancy, and abortion clinics were required to report themselves to the state.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued the state, arguing that the Act violated the provisions of Roe v. Wade.

A split court (5-to-4) held that the essential holdings of Roe v. Wade should be affirmed; however the court also upheld the majority of the Act’s provisions as constitutional, arguing that states seek to protect the health of the mother and the life of the fetus. For example, the 24 hour waiting period was held as constitutional because it was not perceived as an “undue burden.” Likewise, the parental consent provision for minors was upheld. The spousal consent provision, however, was declared unconstitutional.

The decision read, in part:

Constitutional protection of the woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy derives from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. . .

Men and women of good conscience can disagree, and we suppose some always shall disagree, about the profound moral and spiritual implications of terminating a pregnancy, even at its earliest stage. Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter, except perhaps in those rare circumstances in which the pregnancy is itself a danger to her own life or health, or is the result of rape or incest.

It is conventional constitutional doctrine that where reasonable people disagree the government can adopt one position or the other. . . That theorem, however, assumes a state of affairs in which the choice does not intrude upon a protected liberty.

The case came nearly two decades after Roe v. Wade gave women the right to terminate their pregnancies, and 27 years after Griswold v. Connecticut protected a couple’s right to privacy concerning their reproductive decisions. While the 1992 ruling, in its affirmation of the basic principle of Roe v. Wade, acknowledged a woman’s right to make choices about her own body, it also represented a regression in women’s rights, as seen through its provisions concerning the state’s authority to regulate women’s reproductive health.

The ambiguous “undue burden” test has proved difficult to apply, and the ruling, which received mixed reactions at the time, remains controversial to this day.

To read the opinion, delivered by three justices, click here.

To listen to the oral argument and the opinion announcement, click here.

To read a New York Times article published the following day, click here.

For more information, click here.

To read Planned Parenthood’s description of Pennsylvania’s law, click here.

For a broader discussion of reproductive rights, check out Marc Stein’s Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe (UNC Press, 2010), and The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader (UNC Press, 2004).

Nancy Ehrenreich’s edited volume, The Reproductive Rights Reader (NYU Press, 2008) offers articles and legal cases that provide context to this debate.

On This Day: Bethel Street Baptist Church

On June 29, 1958—54 years ago today—the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s Bethel Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama) fell victim to its second bombing in only a year and a half.

The church, which had been bombed in December 1956, served from 1956 to 1961 as headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). The ACMHR, a nonviolent direct action organization, is perhaps best known for its participation in the Freedom Rides of 1961; however, members spent many years previous protesting segregation and discrimination.

Around 1:30 a.m. on June 29th, a smoking can of dynamite was found against the building’s wall. Fortunately, an African American man named Will Hall—one of six volunteers who guarded the church each Saturday night after the 1956 bombing—was able to safely deposit the can on the side of the road before the explosion, sparing the building more serious damage. No one was injured, but the church and nearby residences did sustain some damage.

White supremacist J.B. Stoner was finally convicted of the bombing 22 years later, in 1980, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served only three and a half years in prison before being paroled. (Stoner, by the way, served as an appeals attorney for James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr.)

This wasn’t the last time the church would face fire; on December 14, 1962, the church once again fell victim to a bomb. Bombings threatened other churches within Alabama and across the South—most famously the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (also in Birmingham), which killed four young girls. At that time in the South, African Americans were never guaranteed safety—not even in a church.

Today, a historic marker summarizes the history of the church and Rev. Shuttlesworth.

To read news articles published at the time, click here and here.

For a report of the roughly 50 racially motivated bomb attacks in Birmingham from 1947 to 1965, click here.

To learn more about J.B. Stoner’s trials and conviction, click here.

To learn more about the ACMHR, click here.

To learn more about the ACMHR, the Bethel Street Baptist Church, and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, check out Birmingham’s Revolutionaries: The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (Mercer University Press, 2000, ed. Marjorie White and Andrew Manis).

To learn more about the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, check out Andrew Manis’ A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (University of Alabama Press, 1999).

For more on Birmingham’s significance in the civil rights struggle, check out Glenn Eskew’s But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (UNC Press, 1997).

On This Day: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

On June 28, 1978—34 years ago today—a split Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that although affirmative action admissions policies were often constitutional, the University of California Medical School at Davis had violated the Fourteenth Amendment when it denied admission to a white man simply because 16 of the 100 seats were reserved for non-white students.

Allan Bakke, a white man, had twice sought admission to the medical school, and had been rejected both times. His college GPA and test scores exceeded those of any of the 16 minority students admitted; however, the University’s affirmative action program automatically set aside each of those 16 seats for non-white students.

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where Bakke contended that the University had violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause by refusing him admission solely on the basis of his race.

The Supreme Court found 5-to-4 in favor of Bakke; however, the ruling was not clear-cut. Four of the justices contended that the racial quota system was a violation of civil rights; four others argued that it was constitutionally permissible. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., was torn. He contended that the use of race was valid as one of several admissions criteria, but ultimately broke the tie in favor of Bakke, arguing that the University’s rigid use of this system was unconstitutional.

In his opinion, with which four other justices concurred, Powell wrote:

. . . it is evident that the Davis special admission program involves the use of an explicit racial classification never before countenanced by this Court. It tells applicants who are not Negro, Asian, or Chicano that they are totally excluded from a specific percentage of the seats in an entering class. No matter how strong their qualifications, quantitative and extracurricular, including their own potential for contribution to educational diversity, they are never afforded the chance to compete with applicants from the preferred groups for the special admissions seats. At the same time the preferred applicants have the opportunity to compete for every seat in the class.

The split decision sent mixed messages. It upheld affirmative action systems as constitutional in some cases; however, it also placed limitations on the use of such policies, defining as unconstitutional the rigid application of racial quotas to the extent that said quotas went beyond ensuring diversity to infringe upon the rights of another group of students.

The validity and present-day necessity of affirmative action programs is still a topic of contention, as is the concept of reverse discrimination. Lawyers, judges, school officials, and the general public remain torn on the extent to which affirmative action helps and hinders—and this is a topic unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

To read the full text of Powell’s opinion, click here.

To listen to the oral argument and the opinion announcement, click here.

For more information, and to view photos and video footage, click here.

To learn more, check out Howard Ball’s The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action (University Press of Kansas, 2000).

For more on racial diversity in California, check out Mark Brilliant’s The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Numerous books discuss affirmative action, including Terry Anderson’s The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action (Oxford University Press, 2005) and George Curry’s The Affirmative Action Debate (Basic Books, 1996).

First African American Marines Recognized—70 Years Later

The name “Tuskegee Airmen” typically brings a nod of recognition from people across the country and world. But far fewer are familiar with the Montford Point Marines, a group of African Americans who in the summer of 1942 integrated the U.S. Marine corps—the last wing of the United States armed forces to ban African Americans from its ranks. Trained on a segregated Marine base in Jacksonville, N.C., the Montford Point recruits had a much different experience from that of their closest neighbors, the white recruits of Camp Lejeune. It would be seven years before the training facilities were integrated.

Now, 70 years later, this group—which totaled over 20,000 between 1942 and 1949—will finally be recognized today when surviving members are presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The recognition is long overdue for a group which—despite facing discrimination and hostility at home—sent thousands of Marines off to war. Only about 500 of the original 20,000 are known to be alive today.

The summer of 2010 marked a turning point in the American recognition of the Montford Point Marines, when a Senate resolution named August 26th Montford Point Marines Day. Then, in 2011, the Marine Corps marked the group’s 69th Anniversary by inviting Montford Point veterans for a weekend in Washington, D.C., with a breakfast at Marine Barracks near the Pentagon, followed by tours, town hall discussions, and other activities.

Marine Commandant General James Amos urged lawmakers to award the Montford Point Marines the Congressional Gold Medal, resulting in a bipartisan effort sponsored by North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and co-sponsored by dozens of other legislators. The House and Senate voted unanimously, and President Obama signed the bill into law. Today, at 3 p.m., surviving members of the Montford Point Marines will gather on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to receive the long overdue honor.

To learn more about this under-recognized but highly accomplished branch of the Marine Corps, check out Melton McLaurin’s book, The Marines of Montford Point: America’s First Black Marines, (UNC Press, 2007). Based on more than sixty interviews with Montford Point veterans, this work gives voice to a group whose achievements have for many years not received the recognition they deserve. Author Melton McLaurin also directed a related documentary, which aired on PBS.

Click here to view a video clip from a House session in which U.S. Rep. Steven Pearce rose in support of H.R. 2447, the bill to award the Medal. Click here to read the final version passed by the House and Senate.

To read a story, and watch video footage from the day of the Congressional vote, including interviews with Montford Point Marines, click here.

Click here to view a slideshow of pictures of the Montford Point Marines, taken in the 1940s and in 2012.

Click here to view photographs of the Montford point Marines, as well as oral history transcripts and photos of artifacts.

To learn more, check out this page from the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program.

On This Day: Faragher v. City of Boca Raton

On June 26, 1998—only 14 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton identified the circumstances under which an employer may be held liable for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beth Ann Faragher, a former ocean lifeguard, sued the City of Boca Raton and her immediate supervisors, alleging that she had faced a sexually hostile atmosphere characterized by uninvited touching and offensive comments. She argued that this treatment violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case made its way through district court and the court of appeals before the Supreme Court heard arguments in 1998. Although the Supreme Court had previously heard cases concerned with the definition of sexual harassment in the work place, the Faragher case—in tandem with Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (decided the same day)—questioned the extent to which a company was liable for the actions of an employee who harassed another employee.

The decision read, in part:

The District Court found that the City had entirely failed to disseminate its policy against sexual harassment among the beach employees and that its officials made no attempt to keep track of the conduct of supervisors like Terry and Silverman. The record also makes clear that the City’s policy did not include any assurance that the harassing supervisors could be bypassed in registering complaints. . . . Under such circumstances, we hold as a matter of law that the City could not be found to have exercised reasonable care to prevent the supervisors’ harassing conduct. Unlike the employer of a small workforce, who might expect that sufficient care to prevent tortious behavior could be exercised informally, those responsible for city operations could not reasonably have thought that precautions against hostile environments in any one of many departments in far-flung locations could be effective without communicating some formal policy against harassment, with a sensible complaint procedure.

The ruling, in tandem with the same-day ruling in Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, very clearly defined the responsibilities and rights of companies and their employees. The decision made some lawsuits against employers easier to win, while simultaneously limiting the extent to which workplaces with effective anti-harassment policies could be held liable.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To learn more, click here, or check out this article from the Florida Bar Journal.

To read the New York Times article published that day, click here.

Catharine MacKinnon’s Sexual Harassment of Working Women (Yale University Press, 1979) and Julie Berebitsky’s Sex and the Office (Yale University Press, 2012) examine sexual harassment, providing excellent context for understanding this ruling.

On This Day: Executive Order 8802

On June 25, 1941—71 years ago today—President Roosevelt took a firm stand against employment discrimination when he decreed a presidential order banning discriminatory practices in defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to enforce the measures.

In 1941, as the United States prepared for war, defense industries established millions of new jobs. When it became clear that African Americans who applied to these jobs faced discrimination and even violence, a group of African American leaders, including A. Philip Randolph, presented a list of civil rights grievances and demanded executive action—with the threat of a march on Washington if their demands were not met.

In Executive Order 8802, Roosevelt stated:

NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes, and as a prerequisite to the successful conduct of our national defense production effort, I do hereby reaffirm the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries and in Government, because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and I do hereby declare that it is the duty of employers and of labor organizations, in furtherance of said policy and of this order, to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin.

The order required contracts to include provisions obligating agencies not to discriminate against workers on the grounds of race, creed, color, or national origin. It also established the Fair Employee Practices Committee to investigate discrimination complaints and redress grievances.

As the first Presidential order regarding civil rights since the Reconstruction era, the declaration became an important symbol of racial progress to come and accelerated African Americans’ access to employment.

Click here to read A. Philip Randolph’s call for national defense jobs.

Click here to view the Executive Order, as well as a summary of its contents and importance.

Click here for a timeline of later related executive orders.

To learn more, click here.

To learn more about the Fair Employment Practices Committee, check out Andrew Kersten’s Race, Jobs, and the War: The FEPC in the Midwest, 1941-46 (University of Illinois Press, 2007).

To learn more about fair employment, check out Paul Moreno’s From Direct Action to Affirmative Action: Fair Employment Law and Policy in America, 1933-1972 (Louisiana State University Press, 1999).

To learn about the employment situation for African Americans prior to the 1940s, check out Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff’s Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era (UNC Press, 2009).

Seven years after Roosevelt’s order, President Truman issued an executive order integrating the armed forces. To learn more, check out Kimberley Phillips’ War! What Is It Good For?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq (UNC Press, 2011).

On This Day: Olmstead v. L.C.

On June 22, 1999—only 13 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. tackled an important piece of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ruling that unjustified isolation of disabled individuals qualifies as discrimination based on disability.

Two Georgia women who suffered from mental retardation and mental illness were voluntarily admitted to the Georgia Regional Hospital during the 1990s. Both women were forced to remain institutionalized for additional time, despite their treatment professionals’ beliefs that they could be effectively served within the general community.

One woman brought suit, and the other intervened in the action with an identical claim. The case made its way through district court and the court of appeals before being heard by the United States Supreme Court.

The Court argued that institutionalization severely limits individuals’ abilities to interact and to make lives for themselves. The decision read, in part:

Recognition that unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination reflects two evident judgments. First, institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life. . . . Second, confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment. . . . Dissimilar treatment correspondingly exists in this key respect: In order to receive needed medical services, persons with mental disabilities must, because of those disabilities, relinquish participation in community life they could enjoy given reasonable accommodations, while persons without mental disabilities can receive the medical services they need without sacrifice.

In essence, the ruling required that states eliminate unnecessary isolation of disabled individuals and provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to suit each individual’s needs.

The Olmstead decision, as the first Supreme Court case to involve the “integration mandate” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, set an important precedent in ensuring that disabled individuals receive care in an integrated setting whenever possible. The two plaintiffs in the case ultimately flourished under supportive housing within the community, providing effective examples of the benefits disabled individuals often can receive from community-based living.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

For more information, check out this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and this detailed summary (complete with links) from the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. This summary from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is also very helpful.

To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, click here.

To learn more about current efforts to enforce the Olmstead decision, click here.

For more about discrimination against mentally disabled individuals, check out Michael Perlin’s The Hidden Prejudice: Mental Disability on Trial (American Psychological Association, 2000).

To learn more about disability policy, check out Jennifer Erkulwater’s Disability Rights and the American Social Safety Net (Cornell University Press, 2006).

William Hollister, J. Wilbert Edgerton, and Rebecca Hunter’s Alternative Services in Community Mental Health: Programs and Processes (1985)—available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection—outlines ways in which disabled individuals can be served within a community setting.

Remembering Guinn v. United States

On June 21, 1915—97 years ago today—in the landmark Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma’s grandfather clause, marking an important step in the fight for suffrage for all citizens, regardless of race.

The clause, part of the Voter Registration Act of 1910, required voters to pass a literacy test; however, it exempted citizens who were entitled to vote on January 1, 1866 (before African Americans gained suffrage through the Fifteenth Amendment), and those whose ancestors (“grandfathers”) were entitled to vote at that time.

Unsurprisingly, given the racial discrimination prevalent at the time, local voter registration officials applied the law in different ways. Often, they imposed unreasonable literacy tests on African American applicants—or refused to administer the test at all.

Finally, in 1915, the federal government prosecuted voter registration officials for denying African American citizens of Oklahoma the right to vote, as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Also in question was a piece of Maryland’s constitution, which carried similar restrictions.

In a unanimous ruling (one justice sat out), the Supreme Court struck down the restrictions as unconstitutional. The decision read, in part:

. . . how can there be room for any serious dispute concerning the repugnancy of the standard based upon January 1, 1866 (a date which preceded the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment), if the suffrage provision fixing that standard is susceptible of the significance with which the Government attributes to it? Indeed, there seems no escape from the conclusion that to hold that there was even possibility for dispute on the subject would be but to declare that the Fifteenth Amendment not only had not the self-executing power which it has been recognized to have from the beginning, but that its previous provisions were wholly inoperative, because susceptible of being rendered inapplicable by more forms of expression embodying no exercise of judgment and resting upon no discernible reason other than the purpose to disregard the prohibitions of the Amendment by creating a standard of voting which on its face was, in substance, but a revitalization of conditions which, when they prevailed in the past, had been destroyed by the self-operative force of the Amendment.

Although the ruling had little short-term effect (Oklahoma quickly passed new voter registration restrictions), it led to the dismantling of similar restrictions in other southern states, such as Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, and Georgia. The battle for suffrage continued for many more decades, but the ruling marked an important step toward the eventual banning of voting restrictions seen in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court decision, click here.

For more information, click here, and check out this entry from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.

For more on disfranchisement, click here, or check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press, 2001).

For more on suffrage, check out J. Morgan Kousser’s Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (UNC Press, 1999) and Charles S. Bullock III and Ronald Keith Gaddie’s The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

Remembering Three Young Civil Rights Workers

On June 21, 1964—48 years ago today and only one day after they began a new civil rights campaign—three young civil rights organizers disappeared in Mississippi.

The three men—James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman—were part of the first wave of Mississippi Freedom Summer workers. At the time, intimidation of blacks was commonplace, and new voting laws had made registration increasingly difficult for African Americans. The young men and women set out in a hostile (and often violent) atmosphere to register thousands of African Americans to vote for the first time.

The activists—two of whom were white and one of whom was African American—were held in jail on a speeding charge while they were on their way to investigate a church burning. They were released from jail at night, and headed toward Meridian. The men, who had previously been quite careful to report their whereabouts, never arrived at their destination.

The FBI, on instruction from the Justice Department, began an exhaustive search for the missing civil rights workers—a search which ended six weeks later when the three bodies were recovered near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Cecil Price et. al. that the federal government had the power to police civil rights violations, and the FBI compiled enough evidence to convict seven individuals of violating the men’s civil rights. However, no one was convicted of murder; the 1967 federal trial of prime suspect Edgar Ray Killen ended in a hung jury.

In 2005—forty-one years after the workers’ deaths—Edgar Ray Killen (by then 80 years old) was convicted of recruiting the killers and was sentenced to 60 years in jail for manslaughter.

The horrifying disappearance and deaths of the three young workers shocked the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement. Hundreds of other Freedom Summer workers braved the journey, and successfully registered thousands of African Americans to vote.

To learn more, click here.

The movie Mississippi Burning recalls the investigation. (Note that the investigation was code-named Miburn, short for “Mississippi burning.”)

If you have access through your library, a good biography of James Earl Chaney is in African American National Biography, available online through the Oxford African American Studies Center.

For more information, check out Howard Ball’s Murder in Mississippi (University Press of Kansas, 2004) and Bill Scheppler’s The Mississippi Burning Trial: A Primary Source Account (Rosen Publishing Group, 2003).

To learn more about the activists’ work that summer, check out one young volunteer’s account of her experience, provided by PBS. The Wikipedia summary of Freedom Summer is available here.

There are also dozens of books available which provide insight into the struggles African Americans faced in Mississippi during this period. UNC Press offerings include Françoise Hamlin’s Crossroads at Clarksdale and Emilye Crosby’s A Little Taste of Freedom.