On June 8, 2005, Angela Lewis pauses at the gravesite of her father, James Chaney, who was murdered in 1964 for his role in Freedom Summer, an initiative to register black voters. Because of continued gravesite desecration, Chaney’s headstone now is supported by metal beams.
(Photo: Marianne Todd, Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger)
JACKSON, Miss. — She is the only child born to any of the three civil rights workers whose killings by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964 made news around the world. But few who pass her on the street know her story.
"It’s not something I openly broadcast," said Angela Lewis, who was born just 10 days before the Klan killed her father, James Chaney, and two other civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, on June 21, 1964. "When I was a child, there was a concerted effort by my family to not let people know because of the danger."
More attention may come this year during the 50th anniversary of “Freedom Summer,” when energetic volunteers, many of them college students, traveled to Mississippi to join the work of those involved in the civil rights movement, including registering blacks to vote.
That summer changed America, said Bruce Watson, author of the 2010 book, Freedom Summer.
President Lyndon Johnson ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to fully investigate the disappearances of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act while the search for the three missing civil rights workers was underway.
As the violence and heroism of that summer made headlines, Johnson ordered his attorney general to “write me the (expletive) best, toughest voting rights act that you can devise,” Watson said.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act became a reality, and by the end of that year, Watson said, black voting “was a reality throughout the South, and America was a full democracy for the first time.”
Growing up, Lewis faced her share of difficulties in Meridian, Miss., where the public swimming pools didn’t integrate until 1969 and public schools didn’t fully integrate until a year later.
She gleaned what information she could about her father from history books. “I didn’t know much about my dad,” she said. “My mom didn’t talk about it.”
Years later, when she finally sat down with her grandmother, “I was able to get a whole wealth of information,” she said.
She still talks regularly with her uncle and aunts, probing for more details about the man she never knew, she said. “They’re my last living links to my dad.”
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