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Three Civil Rights Workers

by on August 12, 2014


Today’s blog was written by Damon Turner, summer intern at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland and doctoral student at Morgan State University

 

Freedom Summer or the Mississippi Summer Project was a time of great intrigue and courage.  Black and White Americans who witnessed the horrors of Jim Crow, attempted to change America for the better.  Freedom Summer is primarily recognized by three key events: the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP); the establishment of Freedom Schools along with the registration of Black voters; and the brutal murder of three civil rights workers.

Missing Civil Rights Workers

Missing Civil Rights Workers

On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers investigated the burning of a Black church, where a civil rights rally took place days earlier.  James Chaney, 21 year-old Black Mississippi college student, and two White New Yorkers from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Andrew Goodman, age 20 and Michael Schwerner, age 24 were arrested and placed in jail for “speeding” by the local police.  The men were released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.  In RG 65 the Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files, 1957-1978 (NAID 1513558) series, there are files regarding the attempts of CORE and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register Black voters. Several of the cases in this series were opened by the FBI to investigate Ku Klux Klan and other hate organizations activity.  These records must be screened prior to public use.

After local and state authorities failed to locate the men, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stepped in, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to take over the case.  Kennedy ordered an investigation under the Lindbergh Law [Federal Kidnapping Act (1948)] to look for the three civil rights workers.  The investigation was given the code name MIBURN or Mississippi Burning.  Ironically, this incident provided the final impetus for President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In the mist of searching for the three workers, the FBI discovered the bodies of other missing civil rights activists.  Two of the recovered bodies were of Henry Dee and Charles Moore.  Many of the DOJ’s investigations into civil rights violations are detailed in RG 60 Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files, 1936-1997  (NAID 603432) series.  The case file number for the three missing civil rights workers is 144-41-686.  These records must be screened prior to public use.

It was not until the FBI offered a $30,000 reward before an anonymous source provided details and information concerning the whereabouts of the civil rights workers.  On August 4, 1964, the three men were found near Old Jolly Farm in Neshoba County, Mississippi.  Goodman and Schwerner were both shot in the head with a single bullet, while Chaney suffered two broken arms, trauma to the groin area, a broken jaw, and a crush right shoulder.  The Press Releases, Speeches, Testimonies, and other Records, 1933-1984 (NAID 5605357) series contains the Department of Justice’s press release on August 4, 1964, announcing the discovery of the bodies of the three young men.

 

The FBI arrested twenty-one local police officers and Klansmen for the crime.  But, state officials refused to prosecute them for kidnapping and murder.  Instead, the Federal Government charged seven out of the twenty-one Mississippians for the crime of violating the civil rights of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.  It was not until 2005, when eighty year-old former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was indicted and convicted of manslaughter for masterminding the murder of the three civil rights workers.  He was sentenced to sixty years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.  The RG 21 US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi (Meridian) records are held at the National Archives at Atlanta, Georgia.  Included in this series is USA v. Cecil Ray Price, et al (1967) Case No. 5291, which details the charges against eighteen Klansmen in the murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney.



Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

The passage of the Civil Rights in 1964 gave African Americans hope for equality in America.  The act allowed for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to initiate lawsuits on behalf of individuals who were discriminated against on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in public accommodations.  Despite all the good intensions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans still faced discrimination in many public spaces across the country.

The Press Releases, Speeches, Testimonies, and Other Records (NAID 5605357) series consists of information released by the DOJ for public knowledge.  These records concerns the activities and accomplishments of the DOJ, as well as information on cases relating to organized crime, kidnappings, prisons, antitrust litigation, voting rights, and civil rights.  Several of the press releases following the signing of the Civil Rights Act showed how the DOJ determined whether or not to pursue a discrimination complaint or how they resolved these types of violations.

The first case filed with the DOJ under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 concerned the discrimination of African Americans in various restaurants and motels in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The complaint brought to the Northern District of Alabama Federal Court by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy showed that there was “a pattern or practice of resistance to equal treatment in public accommodations.”  The public release for July 29, 1964 detailing the violations are displayed below:

The DOJ press releases were also used to disclose information of cases involving civil rights violations, including murder.  During the summer of 1964, students from all over the country traveled to the state of Mississippi in an attempt to register African Americans to vote.  Freedom Summer was a dangerous time for these activists who tried to uplift the southern black population, while facing intimidation from resistant white Mississippians.  As a result of this activity, three young men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner paid the ultimate price when they disappeared on June 21, 1964.  Below is the press release from August 4, 1964 announcing the discovery of the bodies of the slain civil rights workers.

Much of the violence that occurred in the South was due to African Americans attempting to register and to vote.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had a provision for voting restrictions.  In the press release for July 24, 1964, DOJ filed suit in the Circuit Courts of two counties in Mississippi.  Holmes County and Marshall County subjected African Americans to “unreasonable questions, procedures, and treatment,” when trying to participate in state elections.

The Civil Rights Act also protected individuals whose violations did not necessarily make the national news.  The case of Lemuel A. Penn, an educator and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve, who was killed by Klan members in Georgia, was announced on August 6, 1964.  The DOJ and FBI worked together to find justice on behalf of this American citizen with the immediate arrest of the four men who committed the murder.  This case was one of many that demonstrated that several white southerners were not willing to accept the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.



Today’s blog is written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

 

Only a short time after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the National Archives had it on exhibit. It made a big impression on visitors who came from across the country and around the world to view the document that would forever change the lives of Americans.

GSA News Release

GSA News Release

 

 

 

 

Visit of Mrs. Gladys Sheriff to National Archives, July 23, 1964. Viewing Civil Rights Act of 1964 exhibit, with a  visitor. Mrs. Sheriff is assistant librarian of Fourah Bay College, University College, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Visit of Mrs. Gladys Sheriff to National Archives, July 23, 1964. Viewing Civil Rights Act of 1964 exhibit, with a visitor. Mrs. Sheriff is assistant librarian of Fourah Bay College, University College, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

 

 

The Act was first displayed in the Pennsylvania Avenue lobby of the Archives Building, then was moved to the Exhibition Hall behind the Rotunda when space for it became available. Here it is, as displayed in the lobby:

Civil Rights Act of 1964 on display at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 on display at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

 

In August 1964, tour guides from the New York World’s Fair arrived for a visit, and the Civil Rights Act was a focal point.

Deputy Archivist Robert H. Bahmer with Foreign Tour Guides from the World's Fair, August 21, 1964

Deputy Archivist Robert H. Bahmer with Foreign Tour Guides from the World’s Fair, August 21, 1964

Crafted in a time of unspeakable violence and danger in the South, this document, so hardly fought and dearly bought, served as a sign of hope that things would get better.

 

***Pages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are currently on display through September 16, 2014 at the National Archives Museum, located on the National Mall at Constitution and 9th St., NW.*** Press Release



Today’s blog is written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist and Damon Turner, doctoral student at Morgan State University and summer intern at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

 

At the conclusion of World War II, African Americans began an aggressive campaign to achieve equal rights in America.  Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized sit-ins, boycotts, and led marches to end racial segregation in public places.  Protesters, both black and white participating in demonstrations were beaten, arrested, and verbally assaulted during the early 1960s.  Their fight for civil rights was documented on television news cast, in newspaper accounts, and through personal statements, and photographs.  Face with international criticism stemming from the Cold War and changing attitudes in America, the time had come for African Americans to demand civil rights.

 

Life-sized display of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee (NAID 7718945)

Life-sized display of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee (NAID 7718945)

During his televised speech on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked for a Civil Rights Bill that would ban discrimination in public accommodations and to allow the US Justice Department to initiate lawsuits on the behalf of individuals.  After, Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Lyndon Baines Johnson continued this request by urging Congress to pass this Bill as soon as possible. [Several hours after Kennedy made this plead to America, Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers was killed in his driveway in Mississippi].

JFK addresses the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 (NAID 194188)

JFK addresses the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 (NAID 194188)

On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This Act outlawed discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  It also banned segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, libraries, schools, and hotels.  This Act marked the beginning of the end of the Jim Crow South.  Most of the NARA holdings relating to this Act can be found at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.  Below are the first five pages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  (NAID 299891).

During the Congressional debate over the Bill, Civil Rights leaders came to listen to the sessions.  Many black organizations and leaders backed the passage of this Bill and showed their support by attending conferences and making statements to the press.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X both came to Washington D. C. to monitor the progress of the Bill in March 1964.  This was the one and only time the men met in person.  Their encounter lasted less than a minute.

malcolm-x-and-king

Once the Bill was introduced, it faced challenges in both houses.  Southern Congressmen wanted to maintain a segregated South.  In the House of Representatives, there were multiple attempts to keep the Bill out of the various judicial committees and prevent it from coming to a vote.  But, public opinion in the North forced representatives to bring the Bill to a vote.  It passed the House on February 10, 1964 by a vote of 290–130.  In the Senate, the Bill encountered the same type of opposition from those who were against integration in public spaces.  The southern bloc used the filibuster to prevent the Bill from coming to a vote.  Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) managed to get enough votes to end the filibuster by introducing a weaker bill.  This was the only the second time in history, where the Senate was able to override a filibuster.  The cloture bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 73–27 on June 19, 1964.

Prior to signing the Bill at the White House, President Johnson made a public statement on why he signed it.  Click here to hear his comments



Today’s blog is written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

 

Harold T. Pinkett, born on April 7, 1914 in Salisbury, Maryland was the first African-American Archivist at the National Archives.  He graduated summa cum laude from Morgan College (now Morgan State University) in 1935, and received his master’s degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938.  He was appointed to the position of Archivist at the National Archives in 1942, where he served as a specialist on records relating to agriculture.  Pinkett continued his education by earning his doctoral degree in history from American University in 1953.  His dissertation focused on the work of Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the Forest Service, in which Pinkett used records from RG 95 Records of the Forest Service, located at the National Archives.  Dr. Pinkett died on March 31, 2001.

 Dr. Harold T. Pinkett

 

Dr. Harold T. Pinkett forwarded this page from Ebony magazine to the Exhibits and Publications Branch and to the Archivist of the United States.

 

No, the photography isn’t bad; neither is Dr. Pinkett’s career!

Dr. Pinkett published many articles regarding the holdings of the National Archives and issues of archival interest. Some topics included records of the Forest Service, investigations of federal record keeping practices, and the selective preservation of general correspondence. These articles are listed below:

  • “Records of Research Units of the United States Forest Service in the National Archives,” Journal of Forestry (1947).
  • “Investigations of Federal Record-keeping, 1887-1906,” American Archivist (1958).
  • “Identification of Records of Continuing Value,” The Indian Archives (1965).
  • “Selective Preservation of General Correspondence,” American Archivist (1967).

 

Here is a listing of African-American employees of the National Archives as of November 23, 1942.  Pinkett tops the list:

African American employees

Here is an excellent account of Dr. Pinkett’s life and archival career.

His legacy of archival excellence endures in the Society of American Archivists’ Harold T. Pinkett Minority Student Award, awarded annually since 1994 to outstanding minority students determined to advance the archival profession and the work of the Society.

Records shown above were found in RG 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Press Clippings (NAID 7582964) and Subject Files (NAID 7563191) – file Committee on Fair Employment Practice.

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