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Goodman, Mother of Slain Civil Rights Activist, Dies
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Goodman, Mother of Slain Civil Rights Activist, Dies



Last Friday, Carolyn Goodman died. A longtime activist from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, she was also the mother of Andrew Goodman. He was one of the three civil rights workers brutally murdered during the Freedom Summer of 1964. The film "Mississippi Burning" was loosely based on their story.


I spoke with Carolyn Goodman back in 2005 before the trial of Edgar Ray Killen. He was later sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of her son and the two other civil rights workers.

Ms. CAROLYN GOODMAN (Activist): I'm not wanting for revenge. That's not what I'm after. But justice is very important and it's got to be done in this case, as it has to be done in any other case.

BLOCK: Carolyn Goodman's funeral was on Sunday.

NPR's Margot Adler knew her as a family friend and has this remembrance.

MARGOT ADLER: Walking into Carolyn Goodman's Upper West Side apartment several years after the murder of the three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and her son, Andrew Goodman, 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 would appear at various events and causes, always radiating purpose, good humor, and the 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.

After the tragedy, she made a film, earned a doctorate, worked as a psychologist, raised two other children, and created a foundation to carry on the legacy of her son.

I remember Carolyn Goodman 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, Carolyn 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.

BLOCK: NPR's Margot Adler grew up and still lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

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