At the request of the Philadelphia Coalition, Sen. Gloria Williamson, D-Philadelphia, introduced Senate Bill 2961, which would name Mississippi Hwy. 19 from Philadelphia to Lauderdale County the "Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Memorial Highway" after the trio that was kidnapped and killed by Klansmen just off that highway on June 21, 1964. However, it looks as though the bill will never be voted on thanks to Sen. Billy Hewes III, R-Gulfport, the chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.
"It's strictly procedural," Hewes said in an interview. "When bills are in litigation, be it civil or criminal proceedings, it's typically the policy of legislation to do this. In fact, another member of the committee is getting the same treatment because his bill concerns dedicating a Central Mississippi highway to someone else, and that situation is currently in litigation as well. Therefore, he understood and we aren't going to vote on that one right now, either."
That is, Hewes is blocking the bill because Edgar Ray Killen has not yet been found guilty—even though the men were definitely chased down Hwy. 19 and then executed by Klansmen. "The situation," as he calls it, is the same whether Killen is convicted of their muders: they died there.
Still, Hewes believes he has good reason to block the bill. "I had a piece of legislation concerning prohibiting inland casinos before, and we didn't vote on that because of litigation," he said. "It upset me at the time, but the chairmen told me that. Now I'm on the other end of things."
Williamson responded: "I hate to disagree with him, but this has nothing to do with the fact that (the case) is in litigation. He has had legislation involving inland casinos, and I understand that. But this is completely different. The coalition just wants to honor them in a public way." She ends: "That's OK. I'm going to give them all a chance to vote 'nay' against it when I move to amend all the other highway bills to include this." There are seven such bills in the House and Senate that will allow her this opportunity.
Jim Prince, editor of the Neshoba Democrat and co-chairman of the Philadelphia Coalition, said: "I recognize how sensitive the issue is, and I want the legislators to know that we respect everyone's opinions. In fact, just as those three boys were not about confrontation, we are not. They were about peaceful resolve and bringing people together, not dividing them, and so are we."
"However, they do need to remember that this is not just supported by the coalition, but from the city, the county, and businesses both here and in Jackson. They need to consider that," Prince told the JFP.
Fenton Deweese, an attorney in Philadelphia, said: "I think there are some people at the Capitol who don't want to vote up or down on this bill, and Hewes is protecting them. As far as this bill goes, it is harmless. There are other highways named after people all over the state." (According to a PEER report, at least 100 sections of highways are dedicated.)
Deweese said the three men didn't know they would be killed, so they were heroes, just trying to register people to vote. "Why can't these boys be commemorated for being courageous and brave and helping the people of Mississippi with their right to vote?" he said.
This isn't the first time Mississippi lawmakers have refused to honor the three civil rights workers. In 1989 both Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran refused to co-sponsor a concurrent resolution in the U.S. House and Senate designating June 21, 1989—the 25th anniversary of the murders—as Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Day.
Good update on this story from two weeks ago:
The state Senate voted unanimously to name two highways in honor of young men slain during the civil rights struggles in Mississippi. These honors are appropriate and long overdue.
If the House concurs and Gov. Haley Barbour signs the measure into law, a 23-mile stretch of Mississippi 19 near Philadelphia, believed to be the site of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, would be renamed for the three civil rights workers murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964.
The bill also renames a portion of U.S. 49 East in Leflore and Tallahatchie counties the Emmett Till Memorial Highway, in honor of the 14-year-old black youth who was beaten to death by white men in 1955.
From Clarion-Ledger editorial today