Social action: Humanistic Kaddish for the victims of the Freedom Summer Murders

After the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Fay, Sunday July 12th was a beautiful day for a moving memorial. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh of City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism led 50 people in a humanistic Kaddish remembering the three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, murdered in Mississippi in 1964. A Kaddish is a Jewish traditional recitation said in honor of the deceased.

Set in a little corner at 70th St. and Freedom Place, we gathered at a plaque for the three men. Rabbi Tzemah gave the prayer in traditional Aramaic and in English.  We lit yartzheit candles and placed stones at the plaque, a Jewish tradition. The gathering – fully masked and socially distanced – was very moving.  Attending the gathering was Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough President.

You can honor their legacy by empowering voters of color living in voter suppression states to register and vote.  Through postcard writing and phone calls – all pandemic-safe activities – you can make a proven difference to the lives of under-represented voters. To join our efforts, please contact us.

A volunteer from the organization Reclaim Our Vote, recounted the events of 1964:

“While participating in the Freedom Summer, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.  Two of the three young men were from New York City, and the third was a native of Mississippi.

The murdered civil rights volunteers were in Mississippi helping register Black Mississippians to vote, which is what Reclaim Our Vote is STILL doing.

The young men were murdered on June 21, 1964. Their deaths made national news. FBI investigators combed the fields, rivers, swamps, and woods, searching for clues to the civil rights workers’ disappearance.  Instead the investigators discovered the dead bodies of 8 black men.  Six week later, Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were found buried in the side of an earthen dam.

The deaths of these 3 men acted as a catalyst to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 where the Federal Government outlawed grossly discriminatory voting laws in voter suppression states.

But by some terrible, terrible twist of fate, 49 years later almost to the day of the young men’s murder, in June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional.  This decision devastated voter protection for millions of Americans overwhelmingly targeting minorities.  Now we’re fighting voting discrimination again. There’s no cross burning this time. Now the discrimination is bureaucratic and mundane, but still effective.

This is the historical context in which we do our work.”

Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer (far right) joins TCC members and others to remember Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner

Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer (far right) joins TCC members and their guests to remember Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner