Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today joined Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, to introduce legislation that would award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner who lost their lives in 1964 while campaigning for voting rights during Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. Both Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were New Yorkers who traveled to Mississippi to protest for justice and equality for African Americans. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress.
“Voting is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans and it is important for us to reflect on our past and honor those who have fought to ensure every citizen has access to that basic freedom,” Gillibrand said. “James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are unsung heroes who sacrificed their lives in the fight for freedom, justice and equality for all. This recognition is long overdue and I will push to make sure that these brave souls are awarded this honor and that the Gold Medal can stand as a memorial to commemorate their lives and fearlessness.”
“These men paid the ultimate sacrifice to bring justice and equality to every American,” said Wicker. “Their courageous actions in the face of danger helped turn the course of history in the United States.”
“Bestowing the nation’s highest civilian award upon these slain civil rights workers would signify the gratitude of a nation that today is more free and just because of their brave work and sacrifice,” Cochran said.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer which was a voting rights campaign for African Americans during the summer of 1964. Thousands of activists came to Mississippi and surrounding states to bring an end to the disenfranchisement that many faced when trying to exercise their right to vote. Participants also hoped to shed light on the violence and harassment faced by Mississippi’s African American population. Churches, homes, and businesses were firebombed, in addition to arrests and beatings from mobs.
One of the most infamous acts of violence during the Freedom Summer occurred near Philadelphia, Miss., on June 21, 1964. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were arrested and questioned after a traffic violation and once released were never seen alive again. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were shot and it was reported that James Chaney suffered a violent beating. Their deaths lead to national outrage and helped garner support for the Civil Rights Movement.
The three award nominees are:
- Andrew Goodman, born November 23, 1943, in New York City
- Michael Schwerner, born November 6, 1939, in New York City
- James Chaney, born May 30, 1943, in Meridian, Mississippi