Freedom Summer Book Summary, by Deborah Wiles, Jerome Lagarrigue

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1-Page Summary of Freedom Summer

Overall Summary

The Freedom Summer Murders is a book about the murder of civil rights workers in Mississippi during 1964. Three men were murdered, and one was arrested forty years later for committing the crime. Several other people involved with the case were also convicted of lesser charges related to it.

There are three victims in the book, two black and one white. All of them were involved in CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). The first victim is James Chaney who was born and raised in Mississippi. Second is Andrew Goodman, a college student from New York City. Third is Michael Schwermer who also grew up in Mississippi but moved to New York City as an adult.

Three young people, knowing that the area is dangerous for civil rights workers, decide to go down there anyway. They know they could be arrested or killed but still make this decision.

An offshoot of the KKK set fire to a church where civil rights workers had recently held a meeting. To investigate this, three men went back to the site of the destroyed church and were arrested for speeding on their way back. The CORE office contacted authorities about them but was unable to get any information.

While the civil rights workers are in jail, nine men hatch a plan to kill them. They include the sheriff of Neshoba County, who later denies knowing about the murder plot. He also ignored offenses committed against the workers and was aware of several other racially motivated murders in his jurisdiction that he did nothing about. The other men implicated in this conspiracy include police officers, local business owners, and a Baptist preacher named Edgar Ray Killen who is ultimately convicted for murder in these crimes.

The three men were released from jail and told to leave town. They left the city, but they were pursued by several vehicles full of men who forced them off the road. The men murdered them and buried their bodies on a nearby farm.

After the three men go missing, the FBI starts looking for them. They find more bodies of murdered African Americans in addition to those of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. Eventually, a reward is offered for information about their disappearance. One man comes forward to reveal where they were buried.

In late November, the FBI presents a case against twenty-one men involved in the conspiracy. However, Mississippi government refuses to charge any of them with murder because they are trying it at a local level and not at the state level. The US Commissioner assigned to this case throws out charges made on hearsay evidence.

In 1967, a federal trial is held for the men who attacked Viola Liuzzo, but a racist judge makes sure that only sympathetic jurors are on the jury. Finally, seven of those men are found guilty and are sentenced to prison. The sheriff who was behind the attack is acquitted in spite of strong evidence against him.

A high school history teacher and some of his students collect all the evidence from the case and pressure law enforcement to reopen it. In 2005, they finally get their wish when Killen is indicted on murder charges. He’s convicted on three counts of manslaughter in 2011 and US Justice Department officials say there will be no further investigations into the case after that.

In the afterward, Mitchell discusses how the murder affected civil rights. The outrage surrounding the crime was used to help gain support for Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Malcolm X argued that white law enforcement didn’t care about black lives.

Freedom Summer Book Summary, by Deborah Wiles, Jerome Lagarrigue

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