Shout it from the mountaintops: VOTE!
Article by Liza Frenette for blogs.nysut.org
Dear Mom and Dad
I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good.
All my love,
Andrew Goodman had arrived. A student at Queens College, he had completed training in Ohio for Freedom Summer at the start of the summer, and was ready to register African Americans to vote in the steamy South along with 900 other activists and college students.
Because he was not yet 21, his parents Robert and Carolyn had to sign permission papers to allow him to volunteer for the program, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality. They were a New York family that talked at the dinner table about subjects such as the Constitution, voting, racism and bullying.
Were they worried about Andrew’s safety, since he would be helping people who were open targets in a state seething with racism?
“She thought he might get beat up or shoved around. My mother put Band-Aids and iodine in his duffel bag,” said David Goodman, Andrew’s brother.
That same night, while the postcard was traveling north in mailbags along with hundreds of other square, white postcards sent to parents by the volunteers, Goodman got in a car with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. They drove to visit a church that was being used as a Freedom School and had just been torched by the Ku Klux Klan. The young men were stopped on the way home for allegedly speeding, put in jail, and then released.
But two cars full of Ku Klux Klan members had been put on their tail — the Neshoba County, Miss., White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klansmen shot all three young men and savagely beat Chaney, who was black. They were all buried in an earthen dam until discovered 44 days later.
Goodman’s postcard made it home, but he never did.
“It was a strange experience, because besides the personal loss and tragedy, I had at that age of 17 an awakening, a deep dive into the ironic of America. There’s America the beautiful and American the ugly,” said his younger brother David, who owns a summer home in Tupper Lake, where his brother is now immemorialized on a mountaintop. “How could anyone be so mean as to murder someone for an opinion, to murder someone for wanting to vote? That was kind of a secondary shock and it changed my world view.”
Andrew Goodman died trying to make sure people were able to act on their right to vote. “But millions of people didn’t want that to happen. They wanted only certain people to vote. It’s a sacred right. It’s the single most important right for a citizen to exercise,” said David Goodman.
It’s easy to forget the relevance of that right, here in this season of the pre-voting scramble, when the robocalls start, when slick campaign fliers overfill mailboxes, and the nightly news is filled with acidic reports of how many billions are spent on elections by special-interest corporations. Candidates are busy casting shadows against their opponents. Many of the promises of the last election cycle have already deflated and dropped to hard ground. It is disheartening. Disquieting. And some of it, disgusting.
It’s easy to think a vote doesn’t matter. Unless you think of Andrew Goodman, which his family does often. So do more and more people as they see how voting rights today are being jeopardized by actions such as shortening the hours to vote in one party’s districts and lengthening them in another party’s; or passing voter ID laws.
“It’s complicated, and it’s breaking out like a virus again,” said David Goodman.
It’s easy to think a vote doesn’t matter, until you remember that voting has changed many things in this country, that good does happen, that promises sometime prevail. It’s important to remember that with a vote, you have a voice. You can seek change through your vote.
Fifty years after Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were murdered for helping to get blacks registered to vote against the odds of what David Goodman calls “state-sanctioned racism,” he stood atop a mountain in Tupper Lake, where his family spent every summer. It was a mountain he, his brother Jonathan, and Andy had climbed over and over again in a rough ascent forged by his family many years ago, a time when these young boys were more likely to be worried about skinned knees and a cool dive into the lake after the climb.
The Goodman family lived in New York City during the school year, and spent their summers in a solid granite house at the head of the lake in Tupper, right next to a rushing falls. It was built in 1933 by masons from the Goodman’s construction company, and each time I pass it I think of Andrew Goodman and how I grew up hearing his story – but not understanding it for a long time.
The mountain was right near their house, although without a bonafide trail, it seemed that the Goodman family members were the only ones scrambling up its sides.
“I never saw anybody but a Goodman on that trail,” said David Goodman.
Not so this summer. It was officially dedicated Goodman Mountain in August, after months of trail cutting and shaping by local volunteers and crews from the Department of Environmental Conservation. A bridge was built from the dirt parking area, making the trail accessible where before there had only been a drop-off.
A kiosk stands at the site, telling the brief history of Andrew Goodman, displaying a replica of his postcard home, and showing photographs of him as a young boy in Tupper and as a young adult. The mountain is now open to the public, and promises an educational adventure into history itself for teachers and students.
David Goodman was joined on this summer’s hike by many people in the community, along with leaders from the DEC and the governor’s office, who cut a ribbon right near the springs where my family filled jugs of water for years. Howard Kirschenbaum, author and professor who had also been a part of Freedom Summer, spoke to the crowd, telling them how he, too, had been arrested in Mississippi. He and a few fellow volunteers had walked to place a phone call to see if there was any word about the missing Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. Kirschenbaum and crew were arrested, driven outside of town, and met by two other cars and 10 men with guns, he recalled.
They spent a harrowing night in jail and were abused, and Kirschenbaum believes the only reason they were not murdered was because after the trio went missing, U.S. Sen. Kenneth Keating had called local politicians to let them know he was watching Mississippi.
“Black people had been disappearing and being lynched and no one paid attention,” Kirschenbaum said. “The struggle for freedom always goes on and we have to keep preserving it for every generation.”
You might say Andrew Goodman moved mountains to preserve that freedom. Getting his name on a mountain, rather than just a history book, took years to happen. It began with the mountains of paperwork filed years ago by the late Bill Frenette, town historian and my uncle, to have the mountain officially named Goodman Mountain by the U.S. Geological Society. He told David Goodman he was doing it because it was just the right thing to do.
“He filed about 5,000 pages with about 50 agencies,” David Goodman said. And so it became Goodman Mountain in 2002. But the mountain lacked an accessible trail, or even a sign declaring its presence to anyone other than some hardy locals. As the 50th anniversary of Goodman’s murder loomed, DEC enacted its unit management plan, and volunteers hauled out their tools for some chainsaw action, some trail work, paperwork, phone calls and persistence. Volunteers included town councilman John Quinn, and retired teacher Jim Frenette, my father, who wanted to see his brother’s wishes fulfilled and Goodman’s name recorded in living history.
On the trail, with my hiking sneakers in the dirt, or looking through the old-growth forest, it feels like Goodman’s spirit is touchable. On top of the mountain, looking out over lakes and clouds of treetops, on toward other mountains, I can believe in the power of a breeze. I wonder, what did he Andrew Goodman see 50 years ago when he stood on top, his open,handsome face looking skyward, his dark hair with its distinct side part being tousled in the wind? What strength did he draw from the rocks where he rested? What breeze called him South?
His sacrifice, along with that made by others, provoked change. After Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were murdered, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
“This story belong to America. This is an American story. It’s your story, too. It’s our story,” said David Goodman, president of the non-partisan Andrew Goodman Foundation, started by Robert and Carolyn — a lifelong activist — in 1966. It is dedicated to “encouraging young adults to be civically engaged and to organize around things that are important to them,” he said. It can be voters rights, or it can be recycling: the Foundation teaches them how to organize and take effective action to make a social impact.
Andrew Goodman’s body was left in the earth, silenced and hidden by violent cowards. But his true mark remains aloft, high, on top of a mountain, where in the silence you can hear all that he did, all that he said, in this spare estate of sky and stone.
The Goodman family donated nearly 600 acres of land near their cottage to the state. On the day of the hike, I found out that Andrew’s grandfather Charles Goodman had built the concrete shelter at the base of the mountain that protects the springs our family (and many others) used for years to fill jugs of water because our summer cabin had no drinkable water. And I learned that I have a thirst for sharing Andrew Goodman’s story, because I never want to forget why a vote matters.
About the Author
Liza has been a staff reporter for daily and weekly newspapers in the Adirondacks, and has published as a freelance writer in Adirondack Life Magazine and Hudson Valley Magazine, as well as for Reader’s Digest. Currently, she live in Albany, NY and writes about social justice issues, workers rights and education for New York State United Teachers: on the web site www.nysut.org and the monthly magazine NYSUT United. She has won state and national awards for feature writing and humanitarian/social justice writing. Her 2013 blog about Andrew Goodman was awarded the first prize winner for blog writing by the International Labor Communications Association.