An Appeal from Kenneth McClane

W.E.B.  Dubois Professor of Literature (Emeritus), Cornell University

Dear Friends,  

I am proud to announce that a group of Cornell alumni, faculty, students, staff and friends have begun a fundraising effort to construct a memorial to celebrate the civil rights activists James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, two of whom have direct Cornell connections. Fifty years have passed since they were murdered by the side of a highway in Mississippi, a tragedy that helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

This “living” monument will not only look back to the idealism and tribulations of Freedom Summer but to the future. It will remind our present students that the world they inherit is theirs to transform: that social justice is always an act of commitment, vision, and ongoing public engagement. We already have $25,000 in pledges. We need to raise $500,000.

As many of you know, President Obama recently honored Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney with the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Freedom. All of these men died so that others might vote, attend integrated schools, and live, in James Chaney’s words, “as brothers.” Michael Schwerner was a member of the Cornell class of '61; Andrew Goodman, although not a Cornell student, came from a family of 6 generations of Cornell alumni; and James Chaney, their friend and fellow human rights activist, a native of Mississippi, provided them with an example of a fearless grassroots organizer.

Cornelians have long sought to remember the courage of these three young men killed in Mississippi. They celebrate what is best in us—interracial and religious interconnection, selflessness, and a powerful commitment to human rights. As some of you may know, Cornell University sent more students than any other institution to participate in Freedom Summer in 1963 and 1964. We, each year, send numerous students to the Peace Corps and to Vista. Social action and service must remain integral to the Cornell experience. 

The proposed memorial, which has the blessing of the University, will be located in a prominent location, possibly near Anabel Taylor Hall, where present-day students will see it. It will be a place for reflection, reminding all of us how young people can change the world. The university-approved design will be inspiring and provocative, much like the powerful monument at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. It is our hope that the monument will inspire as it provokes, and challenge as it clarifies.

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were students who testified to what is best in our young. Present Cornell students, and others who visit the campus, need to learn about those who have gone before them, but just as importantly, they need to commit themselves to a world where each of us is valued. The rights that Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman championed are our collective birthright. The legacy of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman challenges us to complete their unfinished work.

Will you join others and me in making a contribution to the memorial? Please send donations to:

Civil Rights History & Memorial Project
c/o Cornell University Office of Alumni Affairs
130 East Seneca Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

Checks should be made payable to Cornell University

All donations are tax deductible. And should you have any further questions, please contact us.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely yours,

Kenneth A. McClane

W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Literature Emeritus
Co-Coordinator, the Schwerner-Chaney-Goodman Memorial Project