On November 11, 2014 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) applauded the naming of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner as recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The civil rights activists, who were murdered in Mississippi in June 1964 while trying to register voters during the Freedom Summer, gave their lives defending civil rights and trying to expand the right to vote. Schwerner, 24, and Goodman, 20, were both Jewish activists from New York, and Chaney, 22, was an activist from the local African American community. June 21, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of their murders.
Fifty years after their deaths, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are receiving the recognition they deserve for defending civil rights and protecting the fundamental right to vote. When they went to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to help African Americans register to vote and to teach people about their constitutional rights, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner knew they were risking their own lives. They were murdered while working to ensure that everyone—no matter their race—could exercise their fundamental right to vote and have an equal say in our democracy. Their tragic deaths were certainly not in vain. Their murders catalyzed the nation and helped lead to the passage of the both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, two of the most important and influential civil rights laws ever passed.
Our country owes a profound debt of gratitude to Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner—and their families. Their passion for civil rights and dedication to securing equality for all helped propel out country forward immeasurably. As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of their senseless murders, we strongly applaud President Obama’s decision to award them the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Since 1913 ADL has been working to secure justice and fair treatment for all, including the right to vote. Today the League is helping to lead a very large coalition working to fight discrimination, promote equality, and protect the same voting rights for which Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney gave their lives. ADL is urging broad support for the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA), which would create a new formula for pre-clearing voting rights changes and help to secure the fundamental right to vote.