1964 Twenty-five Years Ago

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On December 4, FBI agents arrested nineteen men, most of them members of the Ku Klux Klan, on charges of conspiracy to murder three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The disappearance in June of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman had alarmed the nation because the three young men had been working to register black voters in Mississippi. Schwerner and Goodman were white. The discovery in August of their bodies revealed they had been murdered and put pressure on the federal government to prove that it could enforce civil rights laws in the South.

Among those arrested in December were the sheriff of Neshoba County, his deputy, an ex-policeman, and a clergyman. Though U.S. attorneys initially failed to get the case sent to a grand jury, they were able to win indictments against the conspirators the following January in Jackson, and in October of 1967, after more than two years of litigation, a Mississippi court convicted Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price and seven of his codefendants for the murders, the first jury conviction of white officials and Klansmen for crimes against black people or civil rights workers in Mississippi. But it was only a beginning. “It’s tragic,” Rita Schwerner had said upon the disappearance of her husband, “that white northerners have to be caught up into the machinery of injustice and indifference in the south before the American people register concern.”

The Cleveland Browns, led by the dominating running of the fullback Jim Brown, defeated the Baltimore Colts 27-0 on December 27 to win the National Football League championship.

Notable works of fiction in 1964 included the best-selling novels Herzog by Saul Bellow, The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré. The year in books also saw a legend begin to form around the memory of the slain President John F. Kennedy, in the form of a flood of biographies, collected speeches, and pictorial histories. Scores of other books on civil rights and the national election reflected America’s concern with the political scene Kennedy had left behind. But perhaps the literary event of the year was the posthumous release of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast . The book’s twenty autobiographical sketches, adapted from notebooks Hemingway kept in the 1920s as a young writer in Paris, displayed for one last time the mix of affection, humor, and brutality that had always characterized Hemingway at his best.