Tragedy Recalled By A Similar One A World Away

A Personal Perspective

It was 50 years ago last week that three young adult male Civil Rights workers were murdered and buried in a ditch in Mississippi while registering Black voters in Neshoba County. They were not the only ones. Nine other bodies were also dredged from swamps during the search for Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in the summer of 1964.

The other nine were not on any national radars. It was par for the course for Blacks – especially Black males – to be murdered and dumped without national uproar.

The difference this time was that there were two non-Blacks missing too. Goodman, a 20- year-old Queens College student; and Schwerner, a 24-year-old New York City teacher, were Jewish and were among the many northern youth who wanted to be part of “Freedom Summer.” James Chaney, a Mississippian and a brand new father at the age of 22, was assigned as their guide.

The unspeakable tragedy that befell those three young men at the hands of the KKK became the subject of the 1988 film, “Mississippi Burning.” Hollywood has taken liberties with some of the facts, but enough of it – certainly the main point — is true to make it worth seeing.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying “All it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing.” And so the Civil Rights Movement he led was a great opportunity for good people of all walks of life to unite and fight for the cause of civil rights in this country. Certainly Goodman and Schwerner could have stayed in the comfort and safety of their New York City middle class lives. But they did what they felt compelled to do. They signed on with the Congress of Racial Equality.

Each time I set foot on the Queens College campus, I feel a sense of sadness and gratitude toward Andrew Goodman’s memory and think as well of his companions in that tragedy. We must never forget those who sacrificed fighting for the freedom of all people and we should always be grateful for their lives and their willingness to take a stand. Certainly as Jews, Goodman and Schwerner understood this very well.

So here we are 50 years later and three young men – two of them children, really, and one not even 20 yet – were kidnapped and murdered a world away in the West Bank. But it has been brought home more vividly to New York City because one of the boys has roots in Brooklyn.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is one that has been ongoing and will continue until the end of the world as we know it. There are no winners in this epic conflict. But the killing of these three young people is a visceral reminder that civil rights, human rights and territorial rights go on. These three kids were killed and buried just like the Civil Rights three in Mississippi.

The world is in chaos and we need not even look beyond our five boroughs to see this. Two 14-year-olds in a Bronx school get into a fight and now one is dead and the other is to stand trial. These are two little boys who fell out of friendship reportedly because the killer stole from the deceased and was bullied mercilessly in retaliation.

The bullied kid almost killed himself but decided instead to kill his alleged tormenter. Apparently there were no adults at the school who gave enough of a damn to put a stop to the conflict before it turned into death.

All of these incidents are connected in one way: bullying. Anyone who violates your right to safety, peace of mind and freedom to choose your own destiny, is bullying you.

I thank all the freedom fighters in our country who sacrificed for my rights and I remember Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner on the anniversary of their ultimate sacrifice. May their souls rest in peace and may we remember to stand up against injustice wherever we see it as well.


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