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One On 1 Profile: Carolyn Goodman, Mother Of Slain Civil Rights Activist

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It was 50 years ago this month that three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi in a case that garnered national attention. NY1's Budd Mishkin profiled Carolyn Goodman, the mother of one of the victims, in 2004.

In the Upper West Side apartment where she's lived for some 50 years, Carolyn Goodman is surrounded by her work, her books and her memories.

“Andy and other people I lost over the years who are close to me are always with me,” she says. “Not in a morbid way but in a good way, in a way that strengthens me.”

Andy is her late son Andrew Goodman, who volunteered to go to the south to help register black people to vote in 1964. He never came home, a murder victim in Mississippi 40 years ago this June.

“Well, I feel that the anniversaries, that they are a time for educating the young people. That's what the anniversaries mean to me mostly," she says.

The story of three missing civil rights workers captivated the country during the summer of 1964, but Andrew Goodman's saga is a New York story. He was born and raised in a politically active home on the Upper West Side.

Goodman was attending Queens College in 1964 when civil rights workers came to the school, seeking volunteers to go south that summer. That night, Goodman told his folks he wanted to go.

“When your own child says, ÎI want to go. I want to do it. I want to register voters. I want to buck the [Ku Klux] Klan and do all those things,’ your heart sinks,” says Goodman’s mother. “We couldn't talk out of two sides of our mouths - we couldn't do it."

The Goodman’s knew Andrew would be in danger, but they couldn't imagine just how much.

“He had a duffle bag and I threw in bandages and iodine, and I thought, ÎWell, he'll probably get into some trouble, maybe they'll beat him up or something like that, he ought to have something to take care of himself,’" says Carolyn.

Before heading south, Goodman and other northern college students joined civil rights workers in Ohio for training at the beginning of what was called "Freedom Summer." Not long after, he called his folks to say he was leaving Ohio early to go to Mississippi.

“He said, ÎMom, I'm not going to Canton because a church has burned in Meridian, and so there are a couple of kids who are going down there and I'm going with them,’" says Carolyn. “I thought, ÎOh God.’ I must say that I wasn't going to tell him not to go, so he went."

Goodman joined fellow New Yorker Mickey Schwerner and Mississippi native James Chaney on the trip. They were stopped for speeding outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, and jailed briefly.

What happened next officially remains a mystery, but it's been widely reported and government informants told the FBI that local Ku Klux Klan members then tracked the three down, and shot and killed them.

But all that was known that night of June 21st, Father’s Day, was that the three young men were missing. So began a 44-day vigil.

“[I didn’t sleep at all during the 44 days], just next to the phone," says Carolyn. “We would get calls, anonymous calls from people saying, ÎWe know where your son is. If you go to such and such a place, and we know you have lots of jewelry and diamonds,’ and made-up stories, pranks. It is just unbelievable."

A few days after the disappearance, the Goodman’s and the other families involved went to the White House to meet with President Lyndon Johnson.

“He said, ÎI'm going to do everything I can to find your son - all of them,’” says Carolyn. “We came home, and just as we walked in the door he called us and he said, ÎWe found the station wagon and it was burned and in the woods.’"

The family struggled through the endless summer. Carolyn Goodman says her son Johnny said to her one night over dinner that Andy was gone.

“I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it,” she says. “They hadn't found the bodies then, and I was in denial. I knew and I didn't know."

The three bodies were founded 44 days after they disappeared, buried in an earthen dam. As the country watched, Carolyn and her late husband Bobby Goodman met their son's coffin at Newark Airport.

“All these things have gone through my mind so many times. Supposed we'd said, ÎNo, you can't go.’ What would I have felt like?” she says. “All along we said, Îterrible, terrible, terrible.’ I maybe would have suffered from guilt all my life."

Seven local men were convicted on federal charges of violating the victims' civil rights, but the state never brought murder charges.

Over the last 10 years, we've seen several high profile cases from the civil rights era reopened and retried. The state of Mississippi reopened the investigation several years ago to consider whether the state can bring any murder charges.

Even 40 years later, Carolyn Goodman still hopes that justice will be served.

“I'm not looking for revenge, but I am looking for justice," she says.

The 1960's were not an easy time for Carolyn Goodman. Her son Andrew was murdered in Mississippi, and five years later her husband Bobby suffered a fatal heart attack. But she pressed on.

"You do it because there is a legacy that I had to keep alive, and I had to work at how was I going to do it," she says.

The Goodman’s created the Andrew Goodman Foundation shortly before Bobby Goodman died. To this day, Carolyn speaks about her son and his dreams primarily in schools, while the foundation raises money and donates it to youth programs active in communities around the country.

“I feel like I'm doing something that has meaning,” she says. “At my age I could lounge around and not do anything at all, but that's not me If it weren't for that and this terrible loss, I would find something else that had meaning. I did all my life."

After Andy's death, Carolyn, a psychologist, began working with abused women and children before devoting all of her time to the foundation. These days, she has a busy schedule for a woman approaching 90.

There are theater tickets with friends, and speaking engagements at schools and community groups. She also has two sons, nine grandchildren, and other family to enjoy.

But the shadow of Andrew Goodman is always there. It's there in the last note he sent home from Mississippi - which he signed, "All my love, Andy" - and in the paintings that hang in the apartment.

"It's here all the time,” says Carolyn. “I look at it all the time. When I get up in the morning it's there. It's just part of my life."

It's there on television when Carolyn Goodman happens upon an historical piece about her son and the civil rights movement.

“I think it's good,” she says. “Maybe a lot of other people are watching it. They're getting a history lesson for free."

Despite the reminders of that terrible summer, most of Carolyn Goodman's memories of her son are happy, like breaking up a fight in school.

“Andy said, ÎWhat's going on?’ They said, ÎYou know Joey? He's a pain in the butt and he is just pestering everybody,’” she says. “Andy said, ÎWait a minute.’ He pulls all these kids off the pain in the neck, and he said, ÎLook, if you want to get Joey, [do it] one at a time - fair is fair.’ That was Andy."

“With all these sad and terrible things, people say, ÎWhat was your life like?” I had a wonderful life,” Carolyn continues. “They say, ÎWhat, with all your losses?’ I say, ÎYeah, because I knew wonderful people.’ That's how I feel. And that's why at my advanced age I can smile when I get up in the morning and I can put one foot after the other."

- Budd Mishkin

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