This Day in Black History: May 30, 1943

Slain civil rights activist James Chaney was born in Mississippi.

Posted: 05/30/2013 07:00 AM EDT

(Photo: Public Domain)

On May 30, 1943, civil rights activist James Chaney was born in Meridian, Mississippi.

Tragically, at the age of 21, his life was cut short in June 1964, when he and two other activists were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. 

The three men were in the area to investigate the burning of a local church by white supremacists and increase African-American voter registration in Mississippi. Earlier that evening, the young men were arrested by local police for a traffic violation. As they drove home, they were confronted by a mob of Klansmen who took them to a remote location where they were shot dead. (Chaney's body also showed signs of torture and mutilation.) Their bodies were discovered in a ditch 44 days later.

National attention to the murders was criticized by some who believed interest was only driven by the fact that the two other activists, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were white, while many other murders of Black men by white supremacists at the time received little attention and inadequate investigation.

A federal investigation followed in 1967, and 7 of 10 suspects were convicted under conspiracy charges. However, in the years that followed, activists continued to call on authorities to investigate further, citing new evidence and interviews to implicate Edgar Ray Killen, a man acquitted in the first trial.

On June 20, 2005, Killen was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 60 years in prison, 20 years for each victim.

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