Last week, Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, in concert with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of the 2nd Congressional District, announced that the new FBI Federal Building in Jackson will be named in memory of three young civil rights workers killed near Philadelphia in 1964 and the FBI agent who led the investigation into the murders.
The name of the FBI building at 1220 Echelon Parkway in Jackson will be the “James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Special Agent Roy K. Moore Federal Building.”
The posthumous honor is appropriate and powerfully speaks to why a terrible time in our state’s history must be remembered and understood: to prevent its happening again.
Moore was the agent who established the first FBI field office in Mississippi after the 1964 murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. The three idealistic and brave young men threw themselves into the struggle for the basic rights of citizenship denied Mississippi’s blacks for a century after a war was fought and the Constitution amended to guarantee those rights.
On an equally important and profound level Chaney, from Meridian, and Goodman and Schwerner, from New York, also were working for basic human rights in a culture where the view that people of color were less than human and certainly not equal, was widely held.
If there’s ever been an undeclared war on American soil it was the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Southern white racism fought every advance of black rights and recognition with violence and blood, not to mention almost infinite numbers of legal maneuvers seeking to delay the constitutionally inevitable.
The June 21, 1964, murders can be viewed 46 years after the fact as the apex of opposition to equal rights, equality and common decency.
When, 44 days later, their mangled and abused bodies were found in a farm pond dam, the reality of unconscionable acts stunned millions of Americans – and stirred personal changes of heart and attitude that helped change the South and the nation as constitutional guarantees of equality and full rights intended.
“The whole Mississippi delegation has worked together to name the new FBI building after James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and FBI Special Agent Roy K. Moore, who helped investigate their murders. It is a fitting tribute, and I anticipate supporting this stand alone legislation,” Wicker said in a prepared statement.
He and Cochran, as white politicians, could not have made statements like that in 1964 and won re-election. They might have been physically endangered.
Thompson, who is black, would have had no political platform because prevailing practice would have kept him from voting much less running for elective office.
Our state has changed for the good – morally, legally, politically – in the past 46 years, and in its interpersonal relationships. Not everyone is a convert to right thinking, but perseverance by those who value people regardless of race and ethnicity eventually will make the exceptions exceedingly rare.
Remembering the sacrifice for freedom of people like Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner – and the unstinting work for justice by Roy Moore – is important every year, as is remembering and thanking those surviving Mississippians who joined hands across racial lines to overcome injustice and racism.
Remembering that freedom for all is the bedrock of our nation’s existence is especially important during the week leading up to Independence Day – July 4.
We didn’t start out as a perfect nation 234 years ago in Philadelphia, Pa., but progress has been amazing, and perfecting the ideal remains the work of patriots.
NEMS Daily Journal