Queens College marks Freedom Summer with play honoring civil rights heroes

Director’s chair on stage
Via Getty Images

On Tuesday, June 18, Queens College will present a reading of a play highlighting local activists’ efforts to register voters living in segregated Mississippi in the 60s.

The play ‘The Invaders’ will be showcased at the college’s Goldstein Theatre—located at 153-49 Reeves Avenue- and coincides with the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which falls on June 21. Freedom Summer was a volunteer campaign launched in June 1964 that aimed to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi.

‘The Invaders’ highlights the stories of participating activists James Chaney, then Queens College student Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by the Klu Klux Klan as a result of their activism efforts. Their deaths spurred public support in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The reading will be held days before the anniversary of their deaths on June 21, 1964.

The play was produced by the Andrew Goodman Foundation, a foundation created to honor the life and legacy of the slain Queens College student. ‘The Invaders’ was written by Ralph Carhart, an adjunct lecturer at the college, and directed by Reneé Flemings. 

Prior to the play, on May 30th, siblings of the activists will receive the Queens College President’s Medal-the institution’s highest administrative honor- at the college’s 100th commencement ceremony. The siblings of the activists include David Goodman, Stephen Schwerner and Julia Chaney-Moss. Goodman heads the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which has worked throughout the decades to register voters and challenge voter suppression. Schwerner is a psychologist, educator, and radio host who was working as a counselor at Queens College when his younger brother was killed. Finally, Chaney-Moss, the younger sister of  Chaney, is a minister and a nationally respected advocate for racial and gender equality. 

Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney-Moss will be honored as special guests at a VIP reception before the reading in the atrium of the Aaron Copland School of Music. The performance will be followed by a talkback session, during which Carhart will interview the guests of honor. 

Queens College President Frank H. Wu described Freedom Summer as a “hallowed place in our memory and history.” Wu added that many students at the time had worked for civil rights by joining forces to register African American voters and experienced the hostile treatment of those who wanted to uphold segregationist policies. “Andy Goodman was one of them; he was killed far from home when he was still a very young man, and the trauma and sense of loss are still with us. We see a daily reminder of his, James Chaney’s, and Michael Schwerner’s sacrifice in the Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman Clock Tower that rises above campus,” he said. 

Throughout this year, Queens College is observing the death anniversary of the slain activists in numerous ways. The college is continuing its mission to preserve written, photographic, oral, and material records of its students’ activism in its Civil Rights Archives,  which are showcased in the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library Special Collections. In addition, the college is producing a video documentary series titled Legacy Connection: QC & Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. The newest episode is entitled Heroes in Harm’s Way: Dr. King and Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

Tickets are available on Ticketmaster at $45 for the general public and $20 for Queens College students, faculty, and staff. There is a $30 additional charge for the VIP reception.

Locals can grab tickets to see ‘The Invaders,’ a play that details the heroic efforts of Queens College students against voter suppression and segregation. Courtesy of Queens College