Case Files From 1964 'Mississippi Burning' Murders of Civil Rights Workers Made Public for First Time


It was known as “Freedom Summer,” a massive three-month initiative to register southern Blacks voters and the KKK were trying to intimidate the cause, the FBI said.

Files and photographs from the 1964 case that inspired the film “Mississippi Burning” have been released for the first time to the public, CBS News reported.

In June 1964, three civil rights volunteers,  James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, went missing in Mississippi at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI said.

The volunteers, all in their 20s, had been investigating the burning of a Black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi, when they disappeared. A deputy sheriff in town had arrested them on a traffic charge, then released them after alerting members of the KKK.

Then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy asked the FBI to lead the case in the activists’ disappearance and later found the remains of the burnt-out station wagon which led the FBI to name the case “MIBURN,” for Mississippi Burning.

Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the FBI to open a field office in Jackson during this time to solve the case. The National Guard also aided in the investigation.

The bodies of the victims were found in early August 1964 by the FBI after they exhumed them in Neshoba County where they went missing. In October 1967, seven of the 18 defendants were found guilty — including a local Deputy Sheriff — none on murder charges, the FBI reported. Not one of them served more than six years behind bars.

“The murders galvanized the nation and provided impetus for the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964,” The FBI reported on their website.

In 2004, the case was reopened and led to the June 2005 conviction of Edgar Ray Killen, a 1960s Ku Klux Klan leader and Baptist minister, on manslaughter charges. Witnesses said that Killen gathered a mob of Klansmen to ambush the three civil rights activists. In 2005, witnesses said Killen then went to a local funeral home as an alibi while the fatal attack occurred. Killen was initially tried in 1967 with his fellow co-conspirators, however, he went free after a lone juror couldn’t bring herself to convict a Baptist preacher.

Killen died in prison in 2018. Mississippi then-Attorney General Jim Hood officially closed the investigation in 2016.

Now, the files on “Mississippi Burning,” which date from 1964 to 2007, which were transferred to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and as of last week, they are now available for viewing by the public at William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson, CBS News reported.

The case files on public display for the first time include FBI records, testimonies, and  photographs of the exhumation of the victims, autopsies, photographs of the burial site, according to an announcement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Some of the FBI files are available online at the FBI website.

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