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Three Civil Rights Activists Who Sacrificed Their Lives for Freedom

Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, OH

The partnership between Jews and African-Americans during the civil rights movement continues to inspire a great trust and friendship between the two communities today. Looking back on history, you will see so many heroes who sacrificed their lives in order to bring about change and fight for the freedom of all men and women – no matter their race or religious affiliation.

In honor of Black History Month, IFCJ honors a partnership between one African-American and two Jewish civil rights activists who fought for equality. While they were tragically murdered, their story reminds us of the strong bond between the African-Americans and Jews and why we must always fight against oppression.

Here is an excerpt from “On the Frontlines of Faith.”

American Civil Rights Workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, Jewish activists from New York, were trying to register voters in Philadelphia, Mississippi, together with James Earl Chaney, a local African-American civil rights worker, when they were abducted and brutally murdered by members of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) on the night of June 21, 1964.

The three young men were part of a broader national movement that hoped to begin a voter registration drive in the area, part of the Mississippi Summer Project that became known as “Freedom Summer.” A coalition of civil rights organizations, known as COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), conceived the project where massive numbers of student volunteers would converge on the state to register black voters and conduct “freedom schools.” The schools offered curriculum of black history and arts to children throughout the state.

The three were arrested, detained, then released and basically handed over to a KKK mob, who brutally beat Chaney, then shot and killed all three, burned their car, and buried them in a shallow grave. The disappearance of these activists sparked national outrage and a massive federal investigation. The FBI referred to this investigation as “Mississippi Burning,” which, years later, the 1988 film of the same name was loosely based upon.

Go to to receive your free copy of “On the Frontlines of Faith: The Historical and Spiritual Bonds between African-Americans and Jews.”

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