On June 21, 1964, a day of hope turned into a night of terror and fear when Klansmen and law enforcement shot and killed three civil rights workers from CORE on a narrow road outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, in sparsely populated Neshoba County.
If we care to look, we can find so many similarities in the allegory that is history. Fifty years ago, former Freedom Rider and Christian James Chaney called his Jewish friend Mickey Schwerner, a Columbia graduate student and fellow Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) activist, to the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church in Mississippi to work on voting rights there. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Mt. Nebo is a place with a lot of history. Moses could see the Promised Land from the 2,600-foot-high ridge in western Jordan after he freed his people from slavery and gave them the Ten Commandments, but he couldn’t go there. God told Moses, who was 120 years old at the time, that it was time for him to close his eyes and go to heaven with him. This was not what Moses had planned.
Rock Cut Road is just south of the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church and off of Highway 19. The short, dark road bent slightly around some tall, thin trees. On a lazy “Freedom Summer” night in Mississippi in June 1964, the top branches of this tree gently rustled in a light breeze, like outstretched hands trying to touch the sparkling stars that were out of reach. Earlier that day, a young, idealistic CORE activist and Queens College student wrote to his parents in New York: