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Profile: James E. Chaney

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James E. Chaney was a participant or observer in the following events:

Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey lounge in the courtroom during a hearing on charges brought against them in the murders of three civil rights workers. Rainey is chewing tobacco.Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey lounge in the courtroom during a hearing on charges brought against them in the murders of three civil rights workers. Rainey is chewing tobacco. [Source: University of Missouri-Kansas City]A federal grand jury in Jackson, Mississippi, indicts 19 Ku Klux Klan members and others for the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The indictments mark the first time in Mississippi history that white men have faced serious charges for committing race-related crimes. Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price will be sentenced to six years in jail. KKK leader Sam Bowers and KKK member Wayne Roberts will receive 10 years apiece. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] Investigators conclude that Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, instigated the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Klan members had attempted to kidnap Schwerner on June 16, 1964, but when they were unable to find him, instead set fire to a black church and systematically beat a group of black churchgoers. Schwerner, along with Chaney and Goodman, were in Ohio at the time and returned to Mississippi after hearing of the incident. Both Price and his superior, Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, are members of the KKK, and have a reputation for being “tough” on blacks, and officials of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the organization that sponsors the three civil rights workers, were worried about their safety. On June 21, while asking about the fire and the beatings, the three workers were notified that a group of white men was looking for them. They were arrested by Price while driving to the CORE offices in Meridian, allegedly on suspicion of being involved in the church arson, and taken to the Neshoba County jail. Price met with KKK recruiter (kleagle) Edgar Ray Killen to discuss what to do with the three. Price and the other police officers pretended to release the three, and let them drive away, but Price followed them in his police cruiser. Price pulled the car carrying the three over, placed them in his police cruiser, and drove them down a lonely dirt road, followed by at least a dozen Klan members. The three were beaten by the various Klan members, then shot to death by Klan member Wayne Roberts. The bodies were taken to a dam site at a nearby farm and buried under tons of dirt by earthmoving equipment. It is almost certain that Price informed Rainey of the murders and the burials upon returning to his office. Justice Department and FBI agents began investigating the disappearance of the three workers (giving the case the name “Mississippi Burning,” or MIBURN), and soon found the burned-out hulk of the station wagon driven by Chaney during the three’s final moments. Federal agents found it difficult to find witnesses willing to talk, but FBI agent John Proctor found that children were often knowledgeable and willing to speak in return for candy. A $30,000 reward offering led agents to the buried bodies. Informants from within the Klan itself finally broke open the case, particularly John Jordan, a Meridian speakeasy owner who cooperated with agents rather than face a long prison term. In December 1964, 19 men, including Price, Bowers, Roberts, and Killen, were arrested and charged under Mississippi law. Initially, a US commissioner threw out all of the charges against the 19, claiming that no evidence linked them to the crimes, but the 19 will be charged under federal laws instead. Segregationist Judge William Harold Cox will again dismiss the charges against all but Rainey and Price, but the US Supreme Court will reinstate the charges in February 1966. Cox will impose the extraordinarily lenient sentences, and will later say, “They killed one n_gger, one Jew, and a white man—I gave them all what I thought they deserved.” Price will only serve four years of his sentence before rejoining his family in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1999, Mississippi will reopen the investigation, and in 2005 will reindict Killen, who escaped conviction in the first trial because of the jury’s refusal to “convict a preacher.” Killen will be sentenced to 60 years in jail on three counts of manslaughter. [Douglas O. Linder, 2005]

Entity Tags: Sam Bowers, US Department of Justice, William Harold Cox, Wayne Roberts, US Supreme Court, Michael Schwerner, Ku Klux Klan, John Proctor, Lawrence Rainey, Congress of Racial Equality, Andrew Goodman, Edgar Ray Killen, James E. Chaney, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Jordan, Cecil Price

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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