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Three Civil Rights Workers Missing in Mississippi

June 22, 1964 - Three workers in a day-old civil rights campaign in Mississippi were reported missing today after their release from jail in Philadelphia, Miss., last night.

Leaders of the drive said they feared that the three men — two whites, both from New York, and one Negro — had met with foul play.

The three had been held by Neshoba County authorities for four hours following the arrest of one on a speeding charge and the jailing of the others “for investigation.”

Agents of the FBI began arriving in Philadelphia in force today after the Justice Department ordered a full-scale search.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol issued a missing-persons bulletin, but a spokesman in Jackson indicated today that it had no plans at present for further action.

All three missing men arrived in Mississippi late Saturday afternoon from Oxford, Ohio, where they had taken part in a one-week orientation course for the statewide project. They were among the advance group of some 175 workers who are expected to be followed by another 800 participants in the campaign of political action, education, and cultural activities among Negroes.

One of the missing whites is Michael Schwerner of Brooklyn, a 24-year-old former settlement house worker. He traveled to the South six months ago with his wife, Rita, to open one of the first community centers for Negroes in Mississippi. Mrs. Schwerner remained at Oxford to take part in the second orientation course for volunteers.

The second missing white man is Andrew Goodman, 20, a student volunteer from Queens.

The missing Negro is James Chaney, 21, a Meridian plasterer and driver of the late-model Ford station wagon in which they were last seen.

Both Mr. Schwerner and Mr. Chaney are members of a civil rights task force organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, which is cooperating with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other organizations in the Mississippi project.

Concern over the fate of the three was heightened by the fact that the two CORE men had always reported their whereabouts before at frequent intervals. Workers in the Meridian drive headquarters said Mr. Schwerner had repeatedly emphasized the importance of this to the others during their drive south from Oxford.

Cecil Price, the Neshoba County deputy sheriff, said he had halted and arrested the three about 5:30 p.m. yesterday. He said Mr. Chaney had been driving 65 miles an hour in a 30-mile zone on the outskirts of Philadelphia before he stopped them. The whites were held “for investigation,” he said.

The three were released from the county jail at 10:30 p.m. after Mr. Chaney paid a $20 fine.

“I told them to leave the county,” said Mr. Price. The three then drove out along State Highway 19 after having told the deputy they were returning to Meridian, according to him.

Sheriff L.A. Rainey, a burly, tobacco-chewing man, showed little concern over the report that the workers were missing.

“If they’re missing, they just hid somewhere, trying to get a lot of publicity out of it, I figure,” he said.

Robert Weil, spokesman for the campaign headquarters in Jackson, said campaign leaders “definitely fear that there was foul play, perhaps by the local citizens after they were released.”


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