To the Editors:
When James Chaney was murdered by Mississippi Klansmen and sheriffs in 1964, his only brother Ben Jr. was eleven years old. Ben is now seventeen and in trouble. He needs our help.
Within a year after the shocking tragedy of 1964, friends and supporters of the civil rights movement brought Ben to New York, together with his mother and three sisters. Ben was the first recipient of the Andrew Goodman Memorial Scholarship at the Walden School. But, beset by the memories of the events in Mississippi and by the special conflicts and terrors of the gigantic city, Ben’s adjustment was difficult. In the last few years, he became active in Harlem community efforts at self-determination. This last spring, on the way home from a trip to Florida with two New York friends, Ben was arrested in South Carolina and charged with four first-degree murders and other crimes in three Deep South states. All the alleged murder victims were white. Upon conviction on any of the murder charges, Ben faces the death penalty in the electric chair.
We have been fortunate in obtaining excellent legal counsel for Ben. While he was present when the murders took place, Ben is innocent of murder. We think that a good legal defense will establish his innocence. In November, Ben was acquitted of one murder charge in Jasper County, South Carolina. He has now been extradited to Florida, where he will be tried on three more first-degree murder charges. But the legal defense costs money, of course; about $30,000, we estimate, not much for four murder charges.
Mrs. Carolyn Goodman, the mother of the late Andy, and Mr. Nathan Schwerner, the father of the late Michael, have joined Ben’s mother, Mrs. Fanny Chaney, in trying to raise the modest sum that is needed to make possible the best legal defense for Ben. Your readers are among those in whom the names of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman revive memories of a tragic horror as well as of a common commitment to human decency and racial justice. It seems to us, as it must to you, that our society owes the Chaney family more than ignoring the plight of their only remaining son. We owe it to ourselves to help a family whom society so gravely injured just a few years ago.
Please send checks made payable to the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, marked for the “Ben Chaney Defense Fund,” to Ben’s mother, Mrs. Fanny Chaney, 9th floor, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Contributions are tax deductible.
for the Ben Chaney Defense Fund
New York City
March 11, 1971