Mt. Zion UMC Remembers Past-- Civil Rights Icon Joins Them


 By Shayla Kirksey, Mt. Zion UMC


June 21, 2013 will mark the 49th anniversary of the slaying of three civil right workers. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner came to Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964 hoping to help African-Americans register to vote.

Civil Rights marker
From left to right Elsie Kirksey, 
Obie Riley, Bishop Clay Lee, Leroy Clemons, James Meredith, Evangelist Lynn Barker and Elder Peggy 
Gibson place the flower on the 
memorial monument.

While in Neshoba County, they visited Mt. Zion United Methodist Church to talk with local community members that had been attacked by the Ku Klux Klan.  On June 16, 1964 the church was burned and several members had been viciously beaten.  The three young men who had dreams to help rebuild a scared community were reported missing. They were murdered and buried in a dam--a nightmare and story that the nation will never forget.   

James Meridith
James Meredith at Mt. Zion UMC to honor three civil rights workers killed 1964. 

Church members would eventually rebuild Mt. Zion UMC, which exists today. Recently, approximately 100 people gathered at the church for the annual service to honor the lives of the young men. This years' occasion included a speech from Dr. James Meredith, an icon from the civil rights era, who put his life on the line when hebecame the first African-American to attend the University of Mississippi.Meredith challenged each member to become responsible for one child and to help with a dying generation.

Bishop Clay Lee was the guest speaker for the event.   He recalled how people reacted to the church burning and reports that the trio was missing. He said there were rumors that church members burned the church.


"I could not believe that these loyal members would burn their own church," Lee stated. He also said that he knew that several members had been attacked at the church and he offered them assistance and help with rebuilding the church.


Evelyn Cole Calloway spoke to the congregation for her late parents, J.R. "Bud" and Beatrice "Beadie" Cole, who were members of Mt. Zion and victims of hatred. "We wanted papa to go to the hospital that night but he refused stating that 'no white hands will work on me because it was white hands that hurt me.'"


Elder Peggy Gibson, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church pastor, commented saying "We need this service each year so no one will ever forget the history at Mt. Zion and here in Neshoba County."  


This year's theme song "We Come This Far by Faith" that was sung by the community mass choir speaks volumes to the struggle many endured during that long hot  freedom summer in 1964.