James became involved with the fight for civil rights as a teen. James participated in the Freedom Rides bus demonstrations in 1962 and joined the Congress for Racial Equality in 1963. There Chaney worked on several civil rights initiatives, including setting up “independence schools.” An African American, Chaney understood first hand the effect of racial segregation and bias had on life in the south. Raised Catholic, Chaney was dedicated to his religion. Chaney served as an altar boy growing up. Chaney was employed as a trade union trainee after high school and became more actively involved with the growing civil rights movement.
Chaney participated in the Freedom Rides in 1962. Protestors, called Freedom Riders, traveled on buses in the south to challenge the custom of racial segregation on buses and in bus terminals. This effort was formed by the Congress of Racial Equality. Chaney joined CORE the next year and worked on getting African Americans in his community enrolled to vote. In 1964, Chaney started working with Michael Schwerner. Chaney helped to find locations for voter education plans to be held, including a church in Longdale, Mississippi. The AfricanAmerican , and Schwerner had spent months meeting with leaders in the Mount Zion Methodist Church before they achieved an understanding to sponsor occasions there. They expected these plans would help African Americans in Neshoba County, a poor, rural region.
In June 1964, Chaney traveled with the Schwerners to Ohio to get a volunteer training session. Numerous volunteers, many young college students in the north, were part of the Freedom Summer initiative. These volunteers signed to help register African Americans in Mississippi to enrol to vote. Chaney and Michael Schwerner left the event early, yet, after learning the Mount Zion church had burned down and its members were assaulted by the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacist group.
On June 21, Chaney was arrested by the police allegedly for speeding. Chaney along with his two companies were brought to the Neshoba County jail where they were held for a number of hours. The three drove away, however they never arrived at their destination. Their disappearance made national headlines, mainly because Chaney’s two companies were young white men. Other African Americans had met similar fates, but it was the initial well-publicized event including whites. Together with all the media interest enclosing the case, President Lyndon Johnson called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to inquire.
While local and state law enforcement mostly dismissed the case, the FBI sought to solve the puzzle enclosing the destiny of the three civil rights workers. The vehicle Chaney drove was found two days later. It had been discovered in Bogue Chitto swamp following the FBI received a tip regarding its place. There clearly was no indication regarding what occurred to three young men, but the country started to worry the worst.
The hunt for Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner eventually finished in August when their bodies were found in a earthen dam on the Old Jolly Farm near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three guys were shot to death. Local and state authorities refused to investigate the homicides of the three CORE members, asserting a dearth of evidence. The government stepped in and pursued civil rights charges against an organization of guys, including several law enforcement officers. The legal fight dragged on for many years as the initial charges were thrown out by one court on appeal after which the charges were afterwards permitted to refiled. Of the first 18 men charged in relation to the case, just seven were found guilty and served time in prison. No one, nevertheless, were held responsible for the real homicides.
Interest in the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner was revived in the late 1980s together with the launch of Mississippi Burning (1988), a movie on the basis of the event. A Clarion Ledger reporter, Jerry Mitchell, was instrumental in restoring the case in the late 1990s. Among the first defendants, Edgar Ray Killen, was charged in relation to the homicides. He was a local Klan leader as well as a Methodist minister at period of the killings. Killen was acquitted in the 1967 civil rights trial because among the jurors refused to convict a preacher. This time around, yet, Killen was found guilty of manslaughter in a 2005 trial and sentenced to 60 years in penitentiary. He’d been the chief instigator of the 1964 killings. To this day, Chaney is recalled for his bravery and personal sacrifice. Ben created the James Earl Chaney Foundation in 1998 to support distinct initiatives, for example, Chaney Goodman Schwerner Justice Coalition.