These heinous crimes were committed 50 years ago, on June 21st, 1964. It took a long time for justice to be served in the proceedings against the bigots who committed the crimes; the state of Mississippi did not take action against the perpetrators until 2005. Perhaps for some Americans, the eventual conviction of the leader of the lynch mob brought a sense of closure to the blemish on our country's history.
But these three murders were not about a single crime. The deaths of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman still have at least three lessons to teach us.
The first is the value of fighting the good fight. We rightly honor our men and women in uniform for defending our country, mostly outside its borders. At least as important are citizens willing to stand up for the freedoms guaranteed to all of us by the Constitution and subsequent legislation.
The second is the value of a life. From an individual point of view, these three young men likely would have been delighted to live lives of relatively anonymous productivity--learning, loving, working, and playing. Andrew Goodman was just 20 years old when he lost his life. We can only imagine what a full and prosperous life he would have lived were he not taken from the world. But collectively, we also must recognize that when potential is lost, community and society as a whole lose as well. We have the wherewithal to help the James Chaneys of the world realize their potential.
The third is the value of their noble cause. Schwerner and his friends were resolute in their mission. It was morally right for them to work for voting rights in 1964. It was morally right for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to guarantee that access where it was denied. And it is morally right for the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014 (VRAA) to update those guarantees.
In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, The Supreme Court laid the groundwork for Congress to modernize the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It is now up to Congress to do the right thing and pass the VRAA.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has at last begun the process to move forward with this crucial legislation, and Chairman Leahy (D-VT) has provided necessary leadership and championed the issue. Last week, the committee held a hearing to explore a Voting Rights Act Amendment. I sincerely hope that the House Judiciary Committee will follow their counterparts' lead, with the whole of Congress to follow.
It is difficult to imagine any rational American considering voting rights protections to be objectionable. Already this year, public outcry over discrimination by a sports team owner and a rancher was near-universal. The disenfranchisement of American citizens from this most basic of civil rights ought to demand the same outrage by people of integrity, just as it did when three young activists were cruelly taken from the world fifty years ago.