Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the 1964 Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner murder case in Mississippi and it feels like not much has changed in terms of civil rights.

If you’re familiar with the movie, Mississippi Burning, you know the story of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Henry Schwerner, civil rights activists who were brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964. The activists were on what was called “Freedom Summer,” a campaign initiated by racial equality groups to get African Americans registered to vote. Of course, during that era, there were many dissenters (especially in the Deep South) to black enfranchisement, and members of the KKK chapter in Neshoba County, Mississippi abducted the three workers, shot them at close range, and threw their bodies into a shallow dam, where it took them two months to be discovered. The state government refused to prosecute those involved (including members of the police department and sheriff’s office), and in 1967 the United States federal government charged 18 individuals with civil rights violations. Seven were convicted and received relatively minor sentences for their actions, and it took until 2005 for the final prosecution to occur.

"Missing" poster for the three freedom workers.

“Missing” poster for the three freedom workers.

Recent events such as the failure of our judicial system to prosecute Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile at close range, induced terrible flashbacks of the fear, confusion, and disappointment in humanity I felt after reading about the 1964 murder case and watching Mississippi Burning. What, exactly, the hell have we been doing for the past 53 years? Has any progress been made? I mean, I saw the Castile video as soon as I woke up, rolled over in my bed, and logged on to Facebook. It was horrifying to see someone dying live on social media. Sure, back then, they did not have social media, but the point was still the same: You don’t have to have a reason to kill black people or those who support black people, and you surely will not be punished severely for it.

So, then, how far can we actually say we have progressed as a society? As a race? As a nation? What is the ruler by which we can measure how far we have come? Well, the outrage – both black and white – of the Mississippi killings helped speed up the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. You might think that was a huge price to pay for the right to vote, and you’re very correct. Three lives in exchange for the right to vote…wow. But I wonder if, under the circumstances, and after seeing the result of enfranchising blacks in America, those three men would consider themselves martyrs who knew the possible consequences of their actions? Would they be OK with knowing they sacrificed themselves for others? I would venture to say that in a lot of ways, yes, they knew what could happen and had resolved to make an effort anyway because freedom is not, and has never been, free.

I long for the day when people are pissed enough to stop with the hashtags and social media debates and start using their legal rights and wit to end police violence. Of course, I know that social media is the way a lot of things are getting done in our generation, but the fact of the matter is that we have someone in office who does not respect our generation very much at all. Change must come legally, and we have to start taking action that is so in our government’s face that they cannot ignore it simply by not logging on. Leaders who cannot be questioned will always do something questionable, so it’s time to stopping asking, and start researching what will work and act accordingly.

“Well, Hope, why aren’t you out there acting? Why are you still sitting behind a computer?” you ask. Great question! I, like many of you, am still trying to discover my part in all of this. So far, looks like I can be pretty convincing and state what many people are trying to say in a way that everyone will understand (I’m still amazed that so many people care what I think). I am hopeful that I will soon find my place and join in the ranks of people who are mobilizing to make a difference, if not for my generation, for those who will come after. Hopefully, the ruler by which they measure progress will be a lot longer.

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