Notes from Exile
Schwerner, Goodman, Chaney””And Me
By David Irby
Feb 13, 2005 - 7:17:00 PM

Photo courtesy of Family Tree
Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were three Civil Rights Workers who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964, and it has taken all of this time to prosecute the person who has always been known to have been that murder's ringleader, a "Bible Preacher" and KKK leader, Edgar Ray Killen (who is now 80).  "Justice at last?"  We can only hope!


Schwerner is always listed as the "leader" among "The Mississippi Three," but I think that Chaney's leadership role has really been overlooked.  Goodman was just a "green kid" who had just arrived in Mississippi


And when I "went South" a few months later, I was just a "green kid" too, whose role was mostly to drive more experienced people from place to place.  But we all faced the same dangers; beatings, jailings and DEATH. 


I've done lots of things since.  Later on, I was jailed for refusing "The Draft" during the Vietnam War.  And trying to fight the oppression of Catholic "Irish Nationalists" in Belfast was pretty rough too.  But still,  my proudest boast is that I was one of the few who "went South" to try to fight racism in 1965.


It was not long after that though there came what was called "The Black-White Split," in the two main activist organizations, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality.


There were good reasons why the blacks told the whites to " Split !"  For one thing, quite a few of the whites were trying to use "the movement" to promote their own agendas.  But the results were dire, for all concerned. 


Although some of its most able leaders such as Congressman John Lewis and NAACP leader Julian Bond "went mainstream," SNCC itself degenerated into extreme black nationalism and violence and has disappeared off the map.  CORE is still around, but sadly, it is now little other than a right-wing front for the Republican Party.


And from that time until now, the underlying reasons for poverty and drug use (etc.) in black and other minority communities have never been properly addressed.

But progressively-inclined whites seem to have never learned the lesson, which should have been learned way back then. In the 60s, the blacks wanted the people they called, "white liberals" out because most of "us" insisted on "talking at" the blacks, when "we" should have been listening to THEM instead.


This was because most of the whites were motivated by very stratospheric versions of liberalism.  But I was a bit different.  I was motivated by another form of radicalism, which is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethos.  But I didn't have words to adequately able to express that ethos then, and I STILL find it difficult to express.


But, whether those who read this accept it or not, I think that it is that "Judeo-Christian ethos" which lies at the roots of nearly all of us, and that it is that, which most of us have too much forgotten. 


In the 60s, "we" weren't willing to listen to our black fellow CR workers, and ever since, most of affluent "white liberal America" has continued to "talk at", and refuse to listen to, a "middle America", which is composed of whites as well as blacks and Hispanics (etc.).  And that's why the Republican Party and Bush are capturing more and more of the WHITE element of that population and are beginning to chip away at its black and Hispanic elements too. 


I do not suggest that the Democratic Party, as epitomized by the remaining affluent liberal areas of the "blue states", should degenerate into a stance of half-hearted "me-too-ism".  That won't regain lost ground, any more than the habit, which has persisted too long, of saying, "We are right and everyone else is wrong." 


I propose instead that people (especially affluent whites) begin first, by looking deeply within themselves to rediscover those "roots" which so many have lost.  And then we must begin a REAL DIALOGUE with the rest of America , to discover where genuine common ground can be found.


It is only by these methods that we can regain such good things as a fair tax system for ordinary working people and preserve Social Security, and prevent any more unjust wars such as Bush's invasion of Iraq .


[But meantime, everyone must fight Bush's plan to gut Social Security.  Write to support "our hero" Senator Barbara Boxer and to Senator Dianne Feinstein and your Congress-members today!]


A Westwood native, David Irby is a writer and social justice activist, who is now based in beautiful Dingle, Ireland .  Contact him via

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