A Life of Protest and Forgiveness
By Clyde Haberman
Ben Chaney stood to the side watching mourners fill a grave with the New York soil that gave Carolyn Goodman her eternal blanket.
It is Jewish custom for family and friends to bury the dead themselves, instead of leaving the task to hired hands. In life, Dr. Goodman was hardly an observant Jew. But on Sunday at Mount Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens, she exited this world in traditional style.
Ben Chaney was there to say farewell. “God put his angels here at the right moment,” he said as clumps of earth thudded across the plain pine coffin.
The “angels” were his mother, Fannie Lee Chaney, and Carolyn Goodman, women whose lives might never have converged had it not been for a brutal June night in 1964 in Neshoba County in Mississippi. Each lost a son that night. James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20, disappeared, along with Michael Schwerner, 24. Six weeks later, their bullet-scarred bodies were found in an earthen dam.
The three civil rights workers.
That’s how they came to be linked for eternity — two white boys from New York, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Schwerner, and a black kid from Mississippi, killed for daring to affirm the right of black Mississippians to vote freely. That right was not universally accepted in the “freedom summer” of 1964. The deaths of the young men at the hands of Ku Klux Klan members proved a pivotal moment for the civil rights movement.
Now, life has run its unrelenting course for their parents. Mr. Schwerner’s mother and father died years ago. Fannie Lee Chaney died in May at 84. On Friday, time ran out for Carolyn Goodman. She was 91.
“It’s been a rough summer,” said Ben Chaney, who was 12 when his big brother, James, was murdered.
Yes, he repeated: “God put his angels here. They carried a hell of a burden for a long time. A hell of a burden — knowing that your sons were murdered and the murderers were out on the streets going free.”
Seven Klan members, convicted of federal civil rights violations, served but a few years in prison. Decades later, in 2005, an eighth man, Edgar Ray Killen, was found guilty of manslaughter by a state jury in Mississippi, and is serving a 60-year term.
“Strong women,” Mr. Chaney said. “They were able to endure, and continued to have faith. They never lost faith. My mother didn’t, and neither did Carolyn.”
Dr. Goodman, a clinical psychologist who lived on the Upper West Side, did many things in her long life. With politics that fell decidedly leftward, she had taken on liberal causes well before Andrew, the second of her three sons, was killed. But perhaps inevitably, it is as Andrew’s mother, a civil rights symbol, that many know her.
There she lay on Sunday, beside her first husband, Robert Goodman, and in front of a long, swooping headstone marking Andrew’s grave. Robert Goodman, a civil engineer, died five years after his son’s murder.
“Everybody says Bobby died of a broken heart,” said Judith Johnson, a family friend.
On Andrew’s headstone, three sets of arms reach toward one another, above words borrowed from a Stephen Spender poem: “He traveled a short while towards the sun, and left the vivid air signed with his honor.”
Many of the 65 people who stood over Dr. Goodman’s grave took turns remembering her. She was caring but tough, they said. She would hear out opponents, they said, but not hesitate to speak her mind.
Jane Mark, a relative, told of getting a phone call from Dr. Goodman in 1999, during the protests and mass arrests over the police killing of the unarmed Amadou Diallo. “Jane, we’re going to get arrested tomorrow,” Ms. Mark recalled Dr. Goodman as saying.
“On the spur of the moment, she could decide to get arrested,” Ms. Mark said. “But she wanted to have friends with her.”
Stanley Dearman, a former editor and publisher of The Neshoba Democrat, a Mississippi newspaper that called for justice in the murders, said Dr. Goodman felt no hatred for the killers. “She was too fine a person for that,” he said. That point was reinforced by Kalman Goodman, a grandson of Dr. Goodman.
One day, a man who spoke in a Southern accent went to her apartment and said he had played a role in Andrew Goodman’s death. He was now asking for forgiveness.
His grandmother, Mr. Goodman said, told the man: “If you want my forgiveness, work in your community and help other people. That way lies forgiveness.”
As far as he knows, the grandson said, the man went home and did just that.
From yesterday's New York Times: