This past weekend marks not only the first Sunday services after the mass murder in Charleston’s historic African-American church, but also the 51st anniversary of the abduction and murder of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman: the three young men who were gunned down by Mississippi Klan members during Freedom Summer, the 1964 campaign to register black voters. Schwerner and Goodman, two Jewish men from New York City, had joined local activists like Chaney when their car was pulled over by the county sheriff, who then tipped off the KKK.
The country was riveted by the tragedy, and though the passage of the Voting Rights Act is thought to be related to the public outcry, the activists’ own families noted the sad irony: “It took two white kids to legitimize the tragedy of being murdered if you wanted to vote.”
Among the public who took note was the iconic American songwriter Pete Seeger. His ballad “Those Three Are On My Mind” feels all the more resonant in the wake of the Charleston events: “And the little burnt out churches/ Where they sing we forgive / Those three are on my mind.”