My Son Died Fighting For Civil Rights – Kveller
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My Son Died Fighting For Civil Rights

Editor’s note: Andrew Goodman was a 20-year-old Jewish civil rights advocate who joined Freedom Summer, a project that aimed to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi in 1964. On his first day, he and two other civil rights workers, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

Goodman’s parents, Robert and Carolyn Goodman, started The Andrew Goodman Foundation in order to honor their son’s memory and continue his work.

Following is an excerpt from a speech that Carolyn Goodman gave at the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., on Nov. 5, 1989, courtesy of The Andrew Goodman Foundation.

On this historic occasion of remembrance, parents and children, husbands and wives, have gathered from places distant and near to honor forty men, women and children who lost their lives so that we the living could take a step closer to freedom — one step along the winding road.

Each of these deaths we commemorate is larger than the grief felt by each individual family. In 1964 Robert Goodman, Andy’s father, wrote: “Our grief, though personal, belongs to our nation. This tragedy is not private. It is part of the public consciousness of our country.” This extraordinary monument we stand before today has etched our losses in stone and will be a lasting reminder of courage and commitment to generations yet unborn.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation

The Andrew Goodman Foundation

Today we share our sorrow over the loss of men and women who had the courage to stand up before the face of repression of hate. Men and women who possessed the knowledge that right was on their side.

Today we share our pride — we who raised, loved and lost men, women and children of dignity and determination who would not be turned around, who opposed the forces of reaction with non-violent determination. Their weapon was the belief that all people are created equal.

Last night my son, David, and my sister, Helene, stood with me before this granite poem. We saw and felt Andy’s name beneath the shimmering sheath of water and his presence was again before me: young, vibrant, filled with ideals of freedom for all mankind.

And last night I had a dream I have had before. A dream of terror, as Andy faded from my view when the telephone rang to inform me of his disappearance along with his two companions, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. In the dream, I relived the horror of not knowing their whereabouts for 44 long days and nights until their bodies were found. Andy was clutching a handful of the earth under which he was buried.

andrew goodman

When I awoke, I was flooded with memories of Andy, of his lifelong concern for the rights of other people. At home he was the arbiter between his older and younger brothers assuring that both would be treated equally. At school he played that role, and in his work on a construction job he was always reaching out to others and literally saved the life of one man who stumbled and almost fell from a cliff. While he was still in high school, Andy sat at Woolworth’s in New York City to demonstrate his identification with the sit-ins in the South. When he was at college and, shortly before he went to Mississippi, he and some of his friends picketed the nearby World’s Fair because of their opposition to the invasion of Vietnam by the U.S.

Andy was very much aware of his own history and of the genocide of Jews before he was born during World War II. He was very much aware of what was happening in the South and the genocide of the Black people who were lynched, attacked by police dogs and denigrated because of the color of their skin. When Aaron Henry and Fanny Lou Hamer recruited students at his college, Andy was one of the first to respond to the call for volunteers to go South in the summer of 1964 to become part of the Mississippi Freedom Project.

In the 1950s and the early 1960s, when Andy was being raised, the general perception of people in the North was that racism and the oppression of Black people in the South was a regional problem. Andy saw it differently. Andy believed in putting his body on the line for his beliefs, and this was his opportunity to demonstrate his concerns. He believed in the credo expressed by John Donne who wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”


Today we remember that the sacrifice of many lives changed the Old South — it will never be the same again. In the 1950s and 60s, Blacks and Whites helped to shatter the stronghold of a Southern racist society — but let us not forget that the struggle for equality and human rights continues.

The Iegacy of all those who were lost in the struggle for equal rights demands that we strengthen our determination to continue their fight for civil and human rights. We must continue to fight for universal voter registration, the right to a decent home, education, adequate health care — and a job that will insure the dignity and self-respect of every family. Let us be inspired by their commitment and vow that their dream of freedom will be fulfilled. Let us never, never be turned back from this mission until that dream becomes a living reality.

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