Sam Cook Was Right: A Change Is Gonna Come


  • In 1955, Reverend George Lee, vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and NAACP worker, was shot in the face and killed for urging blacks in the Mississippi Delta to vote.
  • In August 1955, Lamar Smith, sixty-three-year-old farmer and World War II veteran, was shot in cold blood on the crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote.
  • On September 25, 1961, farmer Herbert Lee was shot and killed in Liberty, Mississippi, by E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi State Legislature. Hurst murdered Lee because of his participation in the voter registration campaign sweeping through southwest Mississippi.
  • NAACP State Director Medgar Evers was gunned down in 1963 in his Jackson driveway by rifle-wielding white Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith from Greenwood, Mississippi.
  • Perhaps the most notable episode of violence came in Freedom Summer of 1964, when civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner left their base in Meridian, Mississippi, to investigate one of a number of church burnings in the eastern part of the state. The Ku Klux Klan had burned Mount Zion Church because the minister had allowed it to be used as a meeting place for civil rights activists. After the three young men had gone into Neshoba County to investigate, they were subsequently stopped and arrested by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. After several hours, Price finally released them only to arrest them again shortly after 10 p.m. He then turned the civil rights workers over to his fellow Klansmen. The group took the activists to a remote area, beat them, and then shot them to death.  After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Seven Klansmen, including Price, were arrested and tried for the brutal killings. A jury of sympathizers found them all not guilty. Some time later, the federal government charged the murderers with violating the civil rights of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. This time the Klansmen were convicted and served sentences ranging from two to ten years. In addition to these murders, violence persisted through mass arrests, jail beatings, lynchings, and church bombings. Eventually, national public exposure brought about substantive change. Once the cameras began to capture incidents similar to the ones described here, progress in the movement became a reality. President John F. Kennedy, and later President Lyndon Johnson, moved to put a halt to at least some of the violence by supporting the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1965 I would have been very uncomfortable – more like terrified – to walk down a dirt road registering blacks to vote.  Today I was interviewed by their city newspaper because I wrote a book on the Civil Rights Movement and I’m coming to Clarksdale with a Civil Rights Tour Course.

Later I’ll tell you about the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Fannie Lou Hamer.

My sponsors:

Marilyn and Glenn Pribus

Alicia Peck

Josh Rossol

Steve and Marcia Kent

Coretta Simmons

Smokey Hill Books


2 responses to “Sam Cook Was Right: A Change Is Gonna Come

  1. Sherie, I shall keep up with you as you travel your road. Isn't it amazing how these tools for communication changed so much in our lives and the world.This is such an extra, meaningful experience to walk civil rights history, considering the events in the middle east and N. Africa right now. The world is outraged that a 13 year old boy would be tortured to death in in Syria. Children are demonstrating in the streets, putting themselves in great danger of having the same happen to them. . It is now brought to focus via "U-Tube! " but this has been happening for generations. Egypt's military is giving electrical shock to young, women demonstrators, plus "virginity test", more torture and rape. This is the military that was to help bring about change towards democracy, showing how difficult it is to get rid of the terrors…one head is cut off and another quickly grows, bringing more horror. The quiet heroes continue to stand against such nightmares, just as people stood in our South and coming in from the north…stood against what they knew was so very wrong. They stood so that their children would have a better chance at life. I so hope the world stands against these monsters in power every where. Thank you for writing this blog, educating us about what we knew and forgot or maybe, never knew happened.Thank you for taking us along with you on your journey. Civil rights is still an issue in this country. Hate is being fanned against anyone that doesn't fit the "American Image"or told who is really an "American". It is frightening. This is also about power…always about power. Thank you Sherie for providing a place to make a comment. I am not a writer but I am a citizen of this world and the U.S. Have an incredible time and thanks to Gandhi for showing this world the importance of nonviolent demonstrations.We are all connected…Sandi Guenther

  2. Thank you Sandi, I absolutely agree with you. And I am particularly interested in standing up against what is wrong with the vote. If people don't vote, they are powerless. We've become apathetic and then complain that our leaders don't do what we want. We have an important election coming. Will Americans get out there and take responsibility for what happens in this country?Did you see "Freedom Riders." One of the comments by Diane Nash was that they couldn't let violence triumph over nonviolence. We need to be active so that violence doesn't have a chance to occur.Thank you for letting me know what you are thinking. I'm looking forward to sharing my trip with you. Sherie Labedis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.