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Goodman, Mother of Slain Civil Rights Activist, Dies

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Goodman, Mother of Slain Civil Rights Activist, Dies

Remembrances

Goodman, Mother of Slain Civil Rights Activist, Dies

Goodman, Mother of Slain Civil Rights Activist, Dies

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/13831850/13842805" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Carolyn Goodman, mother of murdered civil rights worker Andrew Goodman, talks during a recess in the June 2005 trial of Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murder of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. Killen was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Kyle Carter-Pool/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Kyle Carter-Pool/Getty Images

Carolyn Goodman, mother of murdered civil rights worker Andrew Goodman, talks during a recess in the June 2005 trial of Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murder of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. Killen was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Kyle Carter-Pool/Getty Images

Held by her husband, Robert, Carolyn Goodman cries as the body of her son, Andrew Goodman, arrives at the Newark Airport in New Jersey in August 1964. The Goodmans' son was one of three civil rights workers slain in Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

toggle caption Bettmann/CORBIS

Held by her husband, Robert, Carolyn Goodman cries as the body of her son, Andrew Goodman, arrives at the Newark Airport in New Jersey in August 1964. The Goodmans' son was one of three civil rights workers slain in Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Bettmann/CORBIS

Carolyn Goodman, a longtime activist from the Upper West Side of New York, died Friday. She was 91. Her son, Andrew Goodman, was one of the three civil rights workers — the others were James Chaney and Michael Schwerner – brutally murdered during the Freedom Summer of 1964. The film Missisippi Burning was loosely based on their story.

Walking into Carolyn Goodman's Upper West Side apartment several years after the murders, the first thing that would hit you — in fact, it would almost stop you in your tracks — was a large oil painting on the wall. A woman being pulled roughly by two men — it radiated a sense of danger, violence and anxiety.

Whenever I saw that picture, I thought of Carolyn Goodman the mother, torn apart by the murder of her son. But the actual Carolyn Goodman never showed that fear and anxiety in public. She appeared at events and causes, always radiating purpose, good humor and a belief in justice.

A mere year after the murder, she was giving advice and solace to my own mother, who was worried sick since I had gone down to Mississippi to work in voter registration. Goodman went on to make a film, earn a doctorate, work as a psychologist, raise two other children and create a foundation to carry on the legacy of her son.

I remember her and many other mothers of civil rights activists in those days saying over and over to their children something that people might be surprised to hear: that there are wonderful white people all over the south and that racism in the north was just better hidden.

When, after 40 years, Goodman testified in the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, one of her son's killers, she emphasized that she was not seeking revenge but was only steadfast in her belief that this was still a country of laws. In 2005, Killen was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

In her later life, I would read about an award she had received or a campaign she was participating in, or even in one case getting arrested at the age of 83 protesting the death in a hail of police bullets of Amadou Diallo. That generation of Upper West Side New Yorkers that she was a part of — most of them are now dead or in their 90s. But so many of them believed that a life not spent improving the world was a life not worth living.

Andy Goodman was only 20 when his life ended. A student at the University of Wisconsin and then Queens College, he had been in Mississippi only one day before he was abducted and murdered — a life cut short so soon.

But almost everyone I know who knew him or his mother would probably tell you that the best way to remember them both is to passionately promote the good and the beautiful.

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