Queens College alum’s killer dies in prison

Edgar Ray Killen, the klansman responsible for the murder of Queens College alum Andrew Goodman, died Jan. 11.
AP Photos
By Naeisha Rose

Edgar Ray Killen, the klansman responsible for the assassination of three civil rights workers, including Andrew Goodman, a Queens College alum, during the 1964 Freedom Summer, died in prison Jan. 11, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Killen, 92, orchestrated and participated in the murders of civil rights workers Goodman, 20, Michael Schwerner, 24 and James Chaney, 21 on June 21, 1964, according to the FBI.

The Congress of Racial Equality, an organization that fights for civil rights using nonviolence, said Goodman and Schwerner were from New York and joined their organization in going to Mississippi, were they met fellow member Chaney, and the three worked together to help black people register to vote.

CORE was not alone in its effort, and other civil rights groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and the Council of Federated Organizations, participated in Freedom Summer, which was a 1964 project specifically meant to help black voters in Mississippi, according to the organization.

Goodman and Schwerner arrived in Mississippi on June 16, 1964, and after joining Chaney, an African-American, to start their civil rights work, they quickly became targets of Killen, a Baptist preacher, and several other members of the Ku Klux Klan, according to history.com.

On June 21, 1964, the three men were arrested on a traffic charge, released in the middle of the night and ambushed, at which point they were reported missing when their car was found burned, according to police.

Six weeks later, an FBI informant later revealed the three civil rights workers were buried in an earthen dam 14 feet below a local farm, and a coroner determined that all three had been shot, and that Chaney had been chain-whipped as well.

Killen and 17 others were arrested for the murders, and an all-white jury convicted only seven of the men in a trial. The Baptist preacher, however, had a hung jury, because one juror refused to convict a pastor, according to prosecutors.

The men who were convicted were sentenced to seven years maximum, according to BBC.com. The case against Killen wouldn’t be reopened for four decades, and he faced a new trial in 2005. Killen was later convicted of three counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The FBI investigation of the murders was fictionalized in the Academy Award-winning 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.”

Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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