A Man for All Seasons

By Eric Olson

February 4, 2013 Updated Feb 4, 2013 at 12:53 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Indiana--It was a defining moment in the Civil Rights movement, dramatized by the movie 'Mississippi Burning'…the murder of three young civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in Meridian Mississippi. The three were part of the so-called Freedom Riders who spent the summer of 1964 registering Black voters in the south. Goodman and Schwerner were white New Yorkers…James Chaney was from Meridian.

“He was real nice,” recalls Fort Wayne resident George Smith, “ 'A' student you know, he always believed we should live a better life.”

Smith lives in Fort Wayne now but he was born and raised in Meridian, went to school with James Chaney and was closely involved with the Civil Rights movement himself. He was also one of the Freedom Riders in the Summer of '64...registering Black voters in this photo…here conducting a sit-in at a Whites-only lunch counter in his hometown. And he paid the price, his office was bombed..this charred cross was burned on the front lawn of his home, his wife and two young children huddled inside. We hear a lot about terrorism these days. We forget just how long terrorism was part of daily life for many Americans.

“When we look back on it I think all Civil Rights workers are heroes,” Smith says, “we putting our life on the line and all we wanted was equal rights, total equality for all men. They died that we could go to the courthouse to register to vote. We got people now still don't exercise that right. We come a long way we got the door open. Now it's up to us to walk on the door.”

Eric Olson reporting out in 'Your Country'.

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