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Slain Freedom Summer activists to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 18, 2014

Three civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964 while registering African-American voters will be honored next week with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, fifty years after their deaths.

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were ambushed and shot by Ku Klux Klan members and local law enforcement officials on the evening of June 21, 1964. The three young men were volunteers in the 1964 “Freedom Summer” campaign to register black voters in Mississippi.

On November 24, President Obama will posthumously award these civil rights martyrs the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, at a White House ceremony.

The disappearance, murder, and search for the missing bodies of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman is chronicled in the recent NEH-supported documentary Freedom Summer. Written, produced, and directed by award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Freedom Summer tells the story of the more than 700 black and white students who fanned out across Mississippi —where less than 7% of the state’s African Americans were registered to vote— to conduct voter registration drives and combat other forms of discrimination, such as inadequate schools and lack of legal aid.

The documentary, which premiered in June 2014 on PBS, is part of the NEH Created Equal series, which brings NEH-funded documentaries on the long civil rights movement to communities across the United States through film screening and discussion programs. The Freedom Summer documentary is available for streaming free online through the NEH website, along with four other Created Equal films: Freedom Riders, The Loving Story, Slavery By Another Name, and The Abolitionists.