James Chaney

Trail Marker

5052 Fish Lodge Road, Meridian, MS

James Earl Chaney was a Civil Rights activist and martyr during the turbulent Freedom Summer of 1964. He was born in Meridian on May 30, 1943, and he became active in the Civil Rights movement during his teenage years. He participated in numerous Civil Rights organizations until his life was cut short at the age of 21.

In 1963, Chaney joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and became active in the voter registration movement. He later met and worked closely with Michael Schwerner, who came to Meridian to open the local office of COFO (Council of Federated Organizations, a coalition of Civil Rights groups). The two were active in creating a community center, promoting voter education, and founding Meridian’s Freedom School. Schwerner quickly became a target of the Ku Klux Klan.

On June 21, 1964, Chaney, Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, a CORE volunteer who had arrived in Meridian the day before, went to neighboring Neshoba County to investigate a church that had been burned. They never made it back to Meridian. Their bodies were found 44 days later, the victims of a KKK murder plot. Their deaths brought national attention to the racial violence and inequality in Mississippi.

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