The America of today is not the America of 40 years ago, but young people still need role models and Carolyn Goodman of Manhattan said her slain son should be among them.
“I think Andrew was the model of a steadfast person who believed that it’s important to reach out to people no matter what their color or ethnicity or race,” she said. “That is what he meant to people 40 years ago and it’s even more important today because we are living in precarious times.”
Goodman’s son, Andrew, was 20 when he was killed in Mississippi in the summer of 1964 as he sought to register blacks to vote. His body and that of his two fellow civil rights volunteers — fellow New York Jew Michael Schwerner, 24, and James Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Mississippi — were found in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Miss. Last week, Edgar Ray Killen, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, now 79, was arrested and charged with their murders, one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era.
“He didn’t go South to be a martyr or to die,” Goodman, 89, said of her son. “He went to register people to vote. He went to a school where he learned about it and he wanted to do it. … It’s hard to recall what it was like 40 years ago. We had a black and white TV set, which had a sharper picture than the TVs of today, and I think of what it was like to see [the police] sic dogs on the blacks. “Andy watched that and somehow it made an incredible impression on him. He said he just wanted to go down to Mississippi. He said, ‘You can’t just talk about it, you have to do it.’ His grandfather had told him, ‘If you believe in something, just don’t talk but become a doer.’”
Goodman, a psychologist by training, said she never gave up hope that her son’s killer would be brought to justice. There had been a federal trial in 1967 and seven of 18 Klansmen tried in connection with the murders were convicted of civil rights violations and sentenced to short prison terms. But the jury weighing Killen’s fate was deadlocked 11-1 for conviction and the government opted not to retry him.
“We felt that sooner or later somebody would come up with a charge that this man really committed murder,” Goodman said. “There is an old saying that you can’t get away with murder. It might take a long time, but I had a feeling.”
The case was reopened by the publication of previously secret files about the case and by the doggedness of prosecutors to dig up new information. Killen’s trial will use some of the 3,000 pages of testimony from the 1967 trial, including the testimony of witnesses who are now deceased.
Asked if she had always believed that Killen was responsible for her son’s murder, Goodman said: “It was hard to know because there were so many people involved. But I believed it was somebody who was a disturbed person, who was probably abused himself. I feel very strongly that this man has to be off the streets. I do not believe in capital punishment. I say lock him up.”
Goodman said she believes Killen will eventually admit his guilt. But what is paramount, she said, is for him “to talk about what he could do now. The past is over; the future is what is more important.”
She said she would like him to spend his time in prison teaching fellow inmates to read and to educate themselves.Asked if the arrest has taken a weight off her shoulders, Goodman replied: “This is something the whole world was looking at. … Here was a guy who was running around the country and nobody was doing anything about it. Our reputation was tainted to the extent that nobody did anything about it.”
The Andrew Goodman Foundation is raising funds to help defray the costs of a film being made by independent producers about the historical significance of the murders, their impact on Mississippi and how the state is moving forward. Donations may be sent to the foundation at 161 W. 86th St., New York, NY 10024.