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Tavis: June marks 50 years since the anniversary of Freedom Summer when civil rights workers launched an all-out campaign in Mississippi to register Black voters and set up Freedom schools.
Among the volunteers were James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, names familiar to all of us 50 years later. They were killed, of course, on June 21, 1964.
Andrew’s mother, Carolyn Goodman, was determined to keep the legacy of her son’s fight for social justice alive, a journey she recounts in a memoir called “My Mantelpiece” which has just been published.
Joining me to talk about the impact of Freedom Summer is Andrew Goodman’s younger brother, David, who is now the president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation. David, good to have you on this program.
David Goodman: Thank you, Tavis, for inviting me.
Tavis: Good to have you here. This book is just now coming out with a beautiful foreword by Maya Angelou. But your mother is deceased.
Tavis: So she wrote this book when, and why is it just now coming out now?
Goodman: Good question. You know, she started writing this book 20 years before she passed away, which was June in 2007.
And it was pretty much finished, but she met Brad Herzog who happens [to be] a Cornell graduate and my mother was a Cornell graduate, although he graduated in 1990, and they worked on it together.
And after she died, he needed to edit it and put it together and we decided to release it on the 50th anniversary which is, of course, right now and it was released May 1.
Tavis: Your mother wouldn’t be the first writer who took a while to get a book done.
Goodman: We know about that.
Tavis: Sometimes it takes a while to do books and records and movies. It takes a while sometimes.
Goodman: A long time.
Tavis: But I wonder if there was a particular reason why it took her a while. Was it the pain? Was it the process? What took so long?
Goodman: I think she wanted to put together a thoughtful record of her life which spans, you know, eight-plus decades, through a very tumultuous time in our history, and my brother, her son, was part of that history.
And she wanted to do a thorough job of it not totally about herself, but about herself in the context of what happened in our country.
Tavis: Why the title, “My Mantelpiece?”
Goodman: Oh, you’ve got to read the first chapter [laugh].
Tavis: That’s the setup, man. I’ve read the book. I know the story. Just tell the story, man [laugh].
Goodman: When I was a little kid, I sometimes mixed up words. And I had done a painting that I said, “Look at my mantelpiece,” meaning my masterpiece. She thought that was great because you put your masterpieces on the mantelpiece.
And a lot of stuff was on our mantelpiece in our home that were important to our family. It’s a metaphor for that which is important to you.
Tavis: It’s a cute story. I just wanted you to tell it. I could have told it, but it’s cuter coming from you.
Speaking of the Goodman family mantel piece and your reference to the fact that there were a number of important items on that mantelpiece, what was on the mantelpiece?
Goodman: Well, it was not only what was on it, but what was around it. It was in our living room. We had a big apartment in New York City. It was rent controlled when my mother moved into it. I was just about born in that apartment.
And it was a center for all kinds of events, political, cultural, intellectual. The piano next to the mantelpiece was played by Leonard Bernstein, for instance, and…
Tavis: That’s high cotton. When Leonard Bernstein rolls by your house to play piano, that’s…
Goodman: Well, this was before he was really famous, but there were people – you know, back in the day before the unions were powerful in the entertaining business, the New York Philharmonic, they didn’t pay their musicians much and she raised money for them.
She was constantly organizing, raising money for good causes, for cultural things, for political things. If you wanted to run for office on the upper west side, you had to visit Carolyn Goodman’s house and she raised money for you if she liked you.
That’s what happened in our house. There were authors in and out. There was the McCarthy era before I really could remember what went on. In 1950, I was only about four.
But the people who were blacklisted in Hollywood which is where we are now, you know, it’s a party of our history that people have forgotten. It was serious. It was terrible. It was un-American, but a lot of things happened that were un-American.
And she believed that you got to really organize and raise money for these causes and she did that. That’s what went on around this mantelpiece, not just what was on it.
Tavis: That explains then why Harry Belafonte is one of the persons to endorse the text along with some other great Americans, but Belafonte’s name certainly stands out. So it’s not just the…
Goodman: You know, Harry lived right near us and he was a great supporter of the civil rights movement.
Tavis: He’s a great man, period.
Goodman: Great man.
Tavis: So it’s not just Belafonte who was coming by the house who lives around the corner. It’s not just Leonard Bernstein who’s playing your piano.
To your brother Andrew, specifically, Andrew extended an invitation to an iconic American one day to come speak to his school and Andrew’s invitation was accepted.
And when I – again, it’s amazing because we know these names, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, and they are forever etched in our memory. They are a part of Americana, but it’s amazing to me 50 years later how little we know about these three boys, these three young men.
So getting into Andrew’s story specifically, one makes the connection to a great icon named Jackie Roosevelt Robinson. Tell me that story.
Goodman: Well, Mr. Robinson lived in New York City at that point and he was iconic, one part of our great historical legacy. And he only lived a couple of blocks away and my mother and father knew him.
People in that circle knew each other. There weren’t a lot, but he was on the upper west side and my brother loved baseball.
I’m not a great big baseball fan, but he was and he took me to Ebbets Field, for those people who can remember what Ebbets Field was before the Dodgers were here [laugh]. And I went with him and there was Jackie.
You know, Jackie Robinson played there and Mr. Robinson had retired at this point, I believe. And he invited Jackie Robinson to speak at the school and he showed up. So my brother’s a big hero in the school and he did come.
Tavis: Tell me the story of how Andrew made the decision that he wanted to go to Mississippi.
Goodman: Well, I’m not so sure it was a making of a decision as much as how he we were brought up. And he particularly was a person who really looked at things in terms of the word “fair.”
He wasn’t what I would call political. He viewed the world in terms of this is fair, this is wrong, this is really wrong. And he really wanted to understand certain situations because, you know, they’re both simple and complicated.
And he heard that in certain parts of the country, if you wanted to vote, you could get beat up or even shot and murdered just to go to the voting booth and he thought that was unfair. That’s how he explained it to me.
And he heard that there were people organizing to register African Americans to vote in Mississippi specifically and that was what Freedom Summer became, and he joined that along with 900 other volunteers.
He was not the only one. It was a large group of people. Of course, 900 isn’t big as a percentage of the population. He felt that not being able to vote was just unfair. It was wrong.
Tavis: To your part about the fact that it wasn’t just a decision, and I take your point, it was in part born of the way he was raised, the way he saw the world. And so much of that has to do with your mother, Carolyn Goodman, the author of this book, “My Mantelpiece.”
But how did your mother take his ultimate decision to go to Mississippi? We’ll talk later about how she dealt with his murder, but how did she take his wanting to go?
Goodman: Yeah. That’s a tough kind of conversation. You know, she and my father as we grew up – and I remember these conversations around the dinner table – talked about our constitution in the context of what it meant, and it was kind of like home schooling [laugh].
And we heard these words like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which every American child hears about. And it was discussed in the context of what you’re allowed to do and what you should do and what you can do.
He heard that too and that’s how we were kind of tuned into what was going on that was right and what was wrong or we thought was wrong. So those were the kinds of things that motivated him particularly.
When he was 15, he went down to West Virginia, for example, because he heard that coal miners – and we come from a family of mining engineers, tunnel engineers, contractors – and he heard that – we know this is dangerous work from our family, but they were paid minimal wages.
It was very dangerous and he wanted to see for himself what it was like and he went there to just educate himself. He was curious.
Tavis: At 15?
Goodman: 15, yeah. He and a friend went there. So he had done this before in terms of looking into things.
Tavis: So your mom – so this was not a complete surprise to her that he wanted to go to Mississippi.
Goodman: That’s right. And when she heard that he wanted to go to Mississippi, she couldn’t exactly say to him, “Well, I’ve been bringing you up this way to look things and take action, but now you can’t go to Mississippi. It’s too dangerous” which a lot of parents – I’m now a parent. I have two children.
I would say that, but she let him go. He was under 21, so she had to sign a release. Very difficult.
Tavis: He obviously pays the ultimate price along with Schwerner and Chaney. And I went back to do some research. I know this story relatively well, of course, but I wanted to go back just to check my facts ’cause I knew he had been there, your brother Andrew had been there for the briefest amount of time.
But I was kind of stunned all over again when I realized how brief his visit to Mississippi was before he’s murdered.
Goodman: Yeah. Well, actually, I brought something for you that I want to give you. The members of SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were told when they got to their place that they were assigned to – because they all came from Ohio – they had to send a postcard home to their parents so they knew they got there safe.
So this is a copy of the postcard. He was only there about a day before he was murdered. That postcard, by the way, the last person I gave that postcard – and that’s a copy of the original – was President Obama.
So you got one just like him. This is copied on both sides. I’m happy to give that to you.
Tavis: I’m honored to receive it. This is a piece of history. Addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Goodman, 161 West 86th Street, New York, New York.
“Dear Mom and Dad, I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful. Our reception was very good. All my love, Andy.”
Goodman: That’s the last correspondence we got from him. Notice the date.
Tavis: Meridian, Mississippi. Looking at the postmark. Meridian, Mississippi, June 21, 1964.
Goodman: It was strange because that’s a Sunday. Think about the post office…
Tavis: On a Sunday. They’re closed on Sunday.
Goodman: Yeah. But they told them to write kind of an innocuous note because they were worried that any correspondence like that would be, you know, read. So that’s what he wrote.
Tavis: You know what the other irony of this is? I’m just noticing this. Jonathan, can you put that card back up? The address side? Whose picture is that?
Goodman: Abraham Lincoln.
Tavis: How ironic is that?
Goodman: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Abraham Lincoln. Four cents, the stamps cost at that point, with a picture of Abraham Lincoln. My Lord.
Goodman: There’s so many interesting coincidences like that. I could go on a long time, but I got to share one with you which is that he was missing and murdered, we found out later, on June 21, 1964.
44 days later, their bodies were found, August 4, 1964. 44 years later, the 44th president of the United States was elected.
On August 4, 1964 also was the Gulf of Tonkin event which started the Vietnam War. It was also Barack Obama’s birthday. Talk about four [laugh].
Tavis: Yeah. How did the news reach your parents?
Goodman: Well, for 44 days while they were missing, there was constant communication with the White House and also other members of the administration, mainly Robert Kennedy, Sr., the attorney-general.
The bodies were found, like I said, on August 4 by an informant who told the FBI where they were. Took him 44 days and they excavated the site and found them.
And then the president’s staff called the families, the three families, the Schwerners, Chaneys. My parents, by that time in the evening, had gone out to Lincoln Center to hear a concert and I was the only one at home.
And I believe Lee White, who worked for President Johnson, called the house and told me and I called one of our family lawyer members and he went and got them at Lincoln Center.
Tavis: You actually received the phone call?
Goodman: I received the phone call.
Tavis: And who had the responsibility of sharing that with your parents?
Goodman: A man by the name of Bernie Fishman, a very close family friend, went to Lincoln Center and got them and brought them home.
Tavis: Did he tell them at Lincoln Center? Or did he wait until he got home?
Goodman: No. He told them there. It was a terrible thing, but he had to tell them.
Tavis: How did your parents navigate forward? How did they process all this?
Goodman: Yeah. It’s a great question. It wasn’t easy. It’s natural – and I was 17 at the time – to strike out and get angry and hateful towards the people who you think did it or what caused it.
My mother particularly took a different tact which is to show the nation that while this was a terrible thing, horrible, and part of a bigger issue, and that was the bigger issue that she wanted to focus on, not her personal loss, but to take that loss and bring it to people in the context of this shouldn’t happen again.
It came out of a social system of racism, segregation, that was counter-productive and not in our nation’s collective interest. That was basically her message and she did it as a grieving mother. So people listened to her.
The sad part of the story – there are many sad parts, so I think that’s a positive part of the story. The sad part of the story to me was that I realized which I hadn’t before that it took two white kids to get murdered by racists to wake up white America.
And had they been Black, because there had been many, many, many, many Black killings, including Medgar Evers, just not even a year before, actually a year before almost to the day.
And the country related because the country was majority white to white kids getting killed. To me and to her, because we discussed it, that was a tragic part also.
But rather than harp on the sadness is to say we got to move forward and reconcile our differences and move away from hatred and violence so that we can have what our great Constitution says we should have, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and equal protection under the law.
Tavis: I wasn’t surprised – I mean, this happens from time to time around here when persons appear as guests on this program, particularly if they do this kind of social justice work.
They’re always excited not to meet me, but to meet a couple other people who work on my team. I’m just the host of the show. But I was not at all surprised by your enthusiasm when you had a chance to meet Medgar’s youngest child who is my staff photographer.
Goodman: Van, yes.
Tavis: Van Evers works here every day and you got a chance to meet Van and my makeup artist, Sheila.
Tavis: Who’s Medgar’s niece.
Goodman: They’re national treasures.
Tavis: Yeah, but I raise that only because you’re right about the fact that Medgar had been killed just a year or so prior.
And there was something about – when you look at these seminal moments in the civil rights history of this nation, there are these occurrences where, for reasons that are sometimes inexplicable, the nation’s conscience is actually pricked.
Certainly, you know, two white kids being killed in Mississippi, to your point, awakens the country in a way that the killing of Black kids had not prior to.
Certainly, you know, those girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church, that bombing, something about the innocence of children and their lives being lost just pricks the nation’s consciousness.
I raise that only to ask, as sad 50 years later, I suspect as it still is, to have lost your brother in this way, there has to be something good, for lack of a better word, about the fact that his sacrifice really did spark the conscience of the country.
Goodman: No, we do focus on that. That, in a way, is a form of survival for us. You know, what good came out of this. And it’s a great story in a way that people responded positively. That’s a positive story.
The collateral damage is sad, horrible, but history is peppered with these kinds of stories. And what we need to do is take them and play it forward, so to speak, to see what’s happening today that we need to pay attention to that we might not be.
Tavis: So what does the Andrew Goodman Foundation focus its work on these days?
Goodman: Well, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do is take this iconic of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney and the civil rights movement and basically what was it? It was a bunch of people coming together.
They were 900 young adults who felt what was going on was unfair and they organized with a Black leadership and white participants basically to change something. And the Andrew Goodman Foundation is saying what would Andy be doing today if he were alive?
And we structured our foundation with a couple of platforms, a couple of programs and one of them is called “Vote Everywhere.” Naturally, it’s a voting legacy issue. And we make arrangements and have partnerships with numerous colleges right now for this particular program where young people who are passionate about some aspect of civic engagement, politics or what’s going on.
We’re not Democrat or Republic oriented. It’s just what do they want to do. And then we help them learn how to organize as social entrepreneurs for change agent, leadership. And that’s what we do in that program.
And then we have another program called “Hidden Heroes” where we look for organizations that are in some aspect of social justice, civil rights, and also create an opportunity and then we fund them for their work a little bit, give them recognition.
And then we put a young person – give him a fellowship to work there like an internship. The problem is, young adults today are broke and they need a little stipend. So it’s not a free internship. We give them a scholarship, fellowship, and they learn the ropes of how to organize and run these nonprofits for social change.
Tavis: I suspect if you had to lose your brother, I certainly can’t imagine a more noble pursuit for which he gave his life. Can you?
Goodman: Well, I don’t mean to correct you or anything, but he didn’t give his life. His life was taken, and I think that’s an important distinction. He didn’t expect to die. I don’t view my brother as a martyr. He lost his life.
Fortunately, the 900 other students and young people and change agents, I’ll call them, didn’t and this relatively small group made a big change. It’s one person or a group of one persons put together can make a big change.
And he did lose his life, but it was taken and we don’t encourage people to do things where they’re going to lose their lives. It’s unusual, thankfully, but we encourage people to take action.
So the vision of our foundation is everybody takes action with emphasis on action to create a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.
Tavis: I take your point that his life was taken. He didn’t give it. It was taken. Your point is not lost on me.
And yet what does strike me about that is that there was something happening in the country then that I don’t see happening as much today, which is that people are willing to make the sacrifice to put themselves on the line, to put themselves in harm’s way for the greater good, whether or not they intend to die or not.
He knew he was walking into a dangerous situation…
Goodman: He did.
Tavis: And he made that sacrifice, which I celebrate.
Goodman: He made that, yes. Yeah, I’ve heard this said many times. Why aren’t the young people today doing, you know, more aggressive engagement? I think it’s different and the times are different.
I don’t want to judge what young people do today in the context of 50 years ago. I mean, if I were in high school, which I graduated in 1964, and someone from 50 years before me, 1914, came and said what I ought to be doing, I wouldn’t listen to them, you know.
So I think we have to encourage young people to do what they are willing to do and give them the tools and the mentorship to do it. And that’s what we’re doing at the Andrew Goodman Foundation.
Tavis: And I’m glad you’re doing it, David. The book written by his mother is called “My Mantelpiece: A Memoir of Survival and Social Justice.” It’s the text by Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman, the mother of David Goodman, for that matter.
And David, as president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, continues to do good work on matters of social justice in this country. David, first of all, thanks for coming on. Thanks to you and your family for your sacrifice.
And I am going to treasure this gift for as long as I live. So thank you for bringing me this.
Goodman: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.
Tavis: Good to have you on the program.
Goodman: Thank you.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching. As always, keep the faith.
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