It’s August 4, 1964. The decaying bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner have just been discovered buried underneath an earthen dam in Mississippi.
This gruesome crime was premeditated and meant to send a message. Goodman and Schwerner, white men from New York City, were both shot once in the heart. Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, was severely beaten and had his genitals cut off before being shot three times.
What did these men do to deserve such a brutal fate? They were civil rights activists, traveling through Mississippi to register black people to vote. And that didn’t sit right with some folks…
During the subsequent FBI investigation, it was discovered that officers from the local sheriff's office and police department had teamed up with members of the Ku Klux Klan to abduct and murder the three men.
But why share this story 56 years later?
Why bring back the pain and anger that comes with reliving one of our nation’s darkest moments? Because now, more than ever, it is absolutely critical that we remember just how much our predecessors sacrificed to help secure the right to vote, for every American.
It’s worth mentioning that when Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered, black Americans had been legally guaranteed the right to vote for nearly a hundred years already, following the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments in the 1860s.
That said, the established power structures in the South did everything they could to disenfranchise black voters, from the passage of Jim Crow laws to straight up voter intimidation by armed militias and white supremacist groups.
And despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the attempts to prevent minorities from voting continue to this day, from arbitrary voter ID laws, to felony disenfranchisement and voter purges that disproportionately impact minority voters.
Moral of the story: you have to fight to protect your rights, and the rights of your fellow man or woman — even when those rights are supposedly protected under the law.
The 2020 election will be the most consequential ballot of our lifetimes.
The decisions that we make—not just in the presidential race, but in all of the down-ballot contests as well—will determine the direction of the country for decades to come.
We know it’s easy to feel insignificant, like your vote doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. But that's a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you choose to sit the election out, your vote and voice really won’t matter.
So make sure your voice is heard this November. Honor the legacies of people like James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner by exercising the rights that they, and so many others like them, died to protect for you. Then tell their stories to your friends, family and other loved ones to ensure that they know just how important it is to vote.
We do have a voice, and there’s never been a more important time to use it.
GO VOTE, as early as you can. The fate of our country depends on it.
You can find voting resources and information here.