In the summer of 1964 three young men joined a cause that would forever change their lives and the world. Board of Supervisors’ Vice-President Obbie Riley was just a child that summer, but said he has come a long way since then. He said Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman are partially to thank for that.
“Here I am at least being afforded the opportunity to serve my community in a capacity that maybe they saw in their far, far dreams. It’s very honorable for me to be in the position I am because of the sacrifices they made,” said Riley.
Several men were charged in connection with the crime, including a preacher and a sheriff. No one was ever convicted on a murder charge, but Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty in 2005 on three counts of manslaughter. He later died in prison.
Riley said it’s tough sometimes when he realizes he works in the same courthouse where so many of those men went to trial.
“To me, the feelings are sometimes overwhelming to know that these are the halls that harbored some of the ill feelings for the brother man of Neshoba County,” said Riley.
Riley said he’s thankful for how far Philadelphia has come since then, but he said one thing folks must remember is what these people were fighting for that summer, the right to vote.
“For this community not to vote and people came here and had their lives taken away from them for the right to vote. It’s just a travesty they don’t go out and vote with 100%,” said Riley.
The bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were discovered in an earthen dam, after a six week search, involving hundreds of people. Schwerner and Chaney were working for the Congress of Racial Equality in Meridian and Goodman was a college student who volunteered to work in the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project, when they were killed.