On June 15, 2014, as part of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, Rita Bender returned to Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi to give an address commemorating the church’s role in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. In January 1964 Bender and her husband Mickey Schwerner went to Mississippi as field staff for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which along with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), worked under the umbrella of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), the organization which coordinated civil rights activities in Mississippi. Rita and Mickey were assigned to Meridian, where with local people, including James Chaney, a young black activist, they established a community center and did outreach to surrounding counties on voter registration. That activity drew the attention of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission and the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan. On June 16, 1964, after the Mt. Zion Church in Longdale, Mississippi had determined to host a Freedom School, church members were beaten by the Klan, and the church was burned. Mickey and James went to Philadelphia on June 21, 1964, along with Freedom Summer volunteer Andy Goodman, to lend their support to church members. The three were arrested by the sheriff’s deputy, held in the Philadelphia jail while the Klan members assembled. They were murdered on the night of June 24, 1964. The bodies were buried in an earthen dam and not discovered by the FBI until August 4. Rita Bender’s address to Mt. Zion appears below.
Thank you for your stalwart support, and for inviting me to speak. This is a most appropriate place to acknowledge all of the generations of people who have stood in pursuit of full and equal national citizenship. Fifty years ago, the people of the Longdale community, including parents and grandparents of