Statement of the Philadelphia Coalition
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
An ancient proverb teaches that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Neshoba County has taken that first step. We thank the prosecutors and the jury and the court for their work in this case. We are grateful to law enforcement for securing the safety of all involved and for the peaceful conduction of the trial. We are proud of our community’s support. We express our profound gratitude to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, as well as to their families, for their tremendous courage and sacrifice. Their loss has not been in vain.
Today justice was served. We are satisfied with today’s verdict but justice is still incomplete. Others responsible for this crime must be brought to justice as well. Seeking justice for the brutal murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner was long overdue. But we have only begun our work here.
These three brave young men were not murdered by a lone individual. While a vigilante group may have fired the gun, the State of Mississippi loaded and aimed the weapon. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission monitored and intimidated civil rights activists to prevent black voter registration. The White Citizens’ Councils enforced white supremacy through economic oppression. And decent people remained silent while evil was done in their name. These shameful actions have been little understood by Mississippi citizens.
We must now seek the truth.
We call on the State of Mississippi, all of its citizens in every county, to begin an honest investigation into our history. While it will be painful, we must understand the legacy of racism that continues to divide us, and to prevent all of us from participating fully in the promise of democracy.
Forty one years ago, young people, black and white, joined with local grassroots activists to show us a vision of interracial cooperation, equality, and justice. Like the prophets crying out in the wilderness, we have yet to heed their cry. As a state, as a nation, it is time to answer the call.
The Philadelphia Coalition issues a challenge and a promise.
We challenge our fellow citizens to join us in an honest appraisal of the past. Knowledge brings truth and the truth brings freedom. Today we have a cause for hope because our community came together to acknowledge its sin. But we also have a purpose for the future: to seek the truth, to insure justice for all, and to nurture reconciliation. And so we promise in our own community to see this journey through to the finish line. But we can not do it alone. We must all understand how and why these murders and thousands of others occurred. We must understand the system that encouraged it to happen so that we can dismantle it. We must never allow it to happen again. We have the power now to fulfill the promise of democracy. Join us in that struggle.