James Earl Chaney was born on May 30, 1943 in racially
segregated and economically depressed Meridian, Mississippi.
He attended St. Joseph's Catholic School from kindergarten to
ninth grade, where as a devout Black Catholic he was active in
church activities and an altar boy for Sunday Mass.
He attended Harris Jr. College High School in Meridian,
Mississippi, where being slight in build and severely
asthmatic did not prevent him from participating in sports. He
was captain of both the football and track teams.
As a young adult James Earl Chaney became involved in the
struggle for civil and human rights. In 1958, at age 15, he
and two young members of the local NAACP, as part of a
recruiting program, initiated the wearing of paper badges with
the letters "N.A.A.C.P" on them to school. The school
principal, fearful of reprisals from the all white school
board and in an effort to halt the political
consciousnessraising of black students, suspended James
Chaney and the other young organizers for a week and
threatened suspension of any student who wore the NAACP paper
In 1962, at age 19, working as an apprentice in a trade
union, James Earl Chaney became involved in the "Freedom Bus
Rides." He boarded a Trailway's bus in Tennessee and sat next
to a 'Freedom Rider' enroute to Greenville, Mississippi. His
father met him at the bus station and ushered him away from
the bus and the brutality of the segregationist only to
severely scold him for his political adventurism. Later, while
still 19, he boarded a bus in Greenville heading toward
Meridian, and sat next to a 'Freedom Rider' sitting in the
front of the bus. The bus was escorted out of the city limits
by police. Upon arriving in Meridian, the 'Freedom Riders'
were threatened with arrest and warned, for their safety, not
to loiter around the bus station or attempt to integrate the
lunch counter where crowds of segregationists waited.
In late 1963, at age 20, unable to maintain a peripheral
involvement in the struggle for human dignity, James Earl
Chaney joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and began
organizing voter education classes in Meridian, Mississippi.
He served as liaison to Michael Schwerner and was responsible
for COFO's (Congress of Federated Organizations) Voter
Education program in the backward, heavily Ku Klux Klan
stronghold counties of southeast and eastcentral Mississippi.
On June 16, 1964, armed members of the Mississippi White
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan "Fire bombed" the Mount Zion
Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi, a rural community
in notorious Neshoba county. Weeks earlier, James Earl Chaney
had earned the trust and respect of church leaders and
convinced them to allow Michael Schwerner, the director of the
Meridian, Mississippi COFO office, to speak at the church.
After many meetings, James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner and
church leaders made plans for the church to be used as a
training site for voter registration classes for the
disenfranchised Black community in rural Neshoba county.
Not until one week later, June 21, 1964, did James Chaney
and Michael Schwerner have a chance to investigate the ruins
of the Mount Zion church. With them was Andrew Goodman, a
young Jewish volunteer from New York, who was to coordinate
the Neshoba county voter registration project. After
investigating the ruins of Mount Zion church and before
starting their return trip to Meridian, Mississippi, the three
civil rights workers visited some parishioners who were beaten
by the Ku Klux Klan on the night of the fire bombing.
"THE NIGGER WAS FOUND ON TOP" read the August 5, 1964
headlines of the Meridian Star, a local newspaper. While enroute to Meridian, Mississippi the three civil rights
workers were stopped by a Neshoba County sheriffs' deputy and
turned over to the Ku Klux Klan. They were murdered and their
bodies buried in an earthen dam. The 44 day search for their
bodies was national and massive. The body of James Chaney was
a "mangled mass". The injuries, besides the bullet holes, it
was said "could only occur in a high speed airplane crash!"
Acting out of his deep belief in Human Rights, James Earl
Chaney was a Black American who sacrificed his life to educate
the poor, the disenfranchised in the procedures of our
democratic system and the voting process.
The James Earl Chaney Foundation is established in the
memory of James Earl Chaney to further advance and promote
achievements in the area of Human and Civil Rights and Voter