Remarks By Secretary of State Dick Molpus
Ecumenical Memorial Service
Mount Zion Church
June 21, 1989
On behalf of the local steering committee and the citizens of Philadelphia and Neshoba County, I want to welcome all the visitors to our community. This is a historic day. The very fact that all of us are gathered together for this occasion and that local black, white, and Choctaw leaders have been solidly behind it is testimony to the good things that are happening in our community. The day is historic too, because we have in our midst members of the families of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Their presence among us is a powerful statement. It is to them that I wish to address a special word.
To Dr. Goodman, David Goodman, Ben Chaney, Julia Chaney Moss, Angela Lewis, Steve Schwerner and Rita Schwerner-Bender:
We deeply regret what happened here 25 years ago. We wish we could undo it. We are profoundly sorry that they are gone. We wish we could bring them back. Every decent person in Philadelphia and Neshoba County and Mississippi feels that way. The nation and the world thinks of the events of 1964 in Philadelphia in historical terms and the deaths of these dedicated young men as a pivotal event in a great national movement. Of course, this is true—but it is not the whole truth.
For fundamentally this was a human tragedy. Your presence here today underscores that. Three mothers’ sons died here on June 21, 1964. Sons, brothers, a father, a husband—young men who had been nurtured by loving families, just as I was and my friends were as we grew up here in Philadelphia. Their loss cut deeply at the hearts of family and friends. It left an aching void. This is what Philadelphia, Mississippi, has come to understand—that we are not talking about abstractions, but about human beings. It is that common bond of humanity that crosses racial, regional, cultural, and religious lines that makes our divisions seem so petty.
My heart is full today. It is full because I know the overwhelming majority of the people in Neshoba County are good and decent people. It is full because this is where I was born and raised and molded into who I am. My heart is full because I know that for a long time, many of us have been searching for a way to ease the burden that this community has carried for 25 years, but we have never known quite what to do or say.
But today we know one way. Today we pay tribute to those who died. We acknowledge that dark corner of our past. But we also take pride in the present—exemplified by today’s events—and we are hopeful about the future.
And last of all, my heart is full today because I know that if James Chaney, Andy Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner were to return today, they would see a Philadelphia and Mississippi that, while far from perfect, are closer to being the kind of place the God who put us here wants them to be. And they would find—perhaps to their surprise—that our trials and difficulties have given Mississippi a special understanding of the need for redemption and reconciliation and have empowered us to serve as a beacon for the nation.
So to you, the families, I say: Listen to the words that will be said today. But most of all, see what is around you. Draw strength and solace from it. Know that it is real. Black, white, and Choctaw Indian together have forged a new and strong bond and helped transform a community. Fear has waned—fear of the unknown, fear of each other—and hope abides.
That is our story. And you and yours are part of it. God bless each of you. We are genuinely glad to have you here.