Edgar Ray Killen, known as “The Preacher,” was taken into custody in central Mississippi hours after a grand jury convened in Philadelphia, Miss., to hear evidence in the killing of the three activists, a crime dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.” The names of the three — Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney — have long been synonymous with the horrors that often accompanied attempts to desegregate the Deep South and bring basic voting rights to the disenfranchised.
The slayings of the multiracial trio — Schwerner and Goodman were white New Yorkers, and Chaney was black and from Meridian, Miss. — took place during the fabled Freedom Summer, when hundreds of idealistic young people flooded into the South to educate blacks about voting rights. The three friends disappeared but were later found buried in the muck of a country dam. They had been beaten and shot.
After a massive federal investigation, seven men were convicted by an all-white jury on federal conspiracy charges in 1967, but none of the men faced murder charges and none served more than six years in prison. Killen went free after the trial. One juror reportedly said he refused to vote to convict a preacher.