President Barack Obama on Monday will take the long-overdue step to posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three civil rights workers who were killed 50 years ago in Mississippi by Ku Klux Klansmen.
The country’s highest civilian honor will go to Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman who were slain June 21, 1964, in Neshoba County, Miss., Their bodies were found 44 days afterward in an earthen dam.
The disappearance and then search for the men, who had traveled to the South to register voters as participants of in the Freedom Summer, held the nation’s attention.
“As African Americans were systematically being blocked from voter rolls, Mr. Chaney, Mr. Goodman, and Mr. Schwerner joined hundreds of others working to register black voters in Mississippi,” the president said in a prepared release. “They were murdered at the outset of Freedom Summer.
“Their deaths shocked the nation and their efforts helped to inspire many of the landmark civil rights advancements that followed.”
Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman are among 19 persons to received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Others include choreographer, dancer, and the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — Alvin Ailey (posthumously).
The president said: “Ailey’s work was groundbreaking in its exploration of the African American experience and the enrichment of the modern dance tradition, including his beloved American masterpiece “Revelations.” The Ailey organization, based in New York City, carries on his pioneering legacy with performances, training, educational and community programs for people of all backgrounds.”
Kansas City has benefited greatly from its connection to Ailey with performances and camps for youths. Artistic Director Robert Battle is to accept the award.
Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder also is to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.