On November 24, 2014, President Obama awarded nineteen Americans with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our Nation’s highest civilian honor. The subjects in Norman Rockwell’s painting Murder in Mississippi were posthumous recipients.
In a statement by the White House, “James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were civil rights activists and participants in “Freedom Summer,” an historic voter registration drive in 1964. As African Americans were systematically being blocked from voter rolls, Mr. Chaney, Mr. Goodman, and Mr. Schwerner joined hundreds of others working to register black voters in Mississippi. They were murdered at the outset of Freedom Summer. Their deaths shocked the nation and their efforts helped to inspire many of the landmark civil rights advancements that followed.”
In the beginning of 1965, Rockwell began work on an illustration for Look about the June 21, 1964 murders of three young civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Rockwell conceived Murder in Mississippi as a horizontal composition to run across two pages. The young men would be pictured on the left page and Philadelphia Deputy Price and the posse of Klansmen wielding sticks (we later learned all were armed with rifles and shotguns) on the right. His next idea was to do two separate, vertical pictures-the first showing the civil rights workers and the second showing the Mount Zion Church. Rockwell hired local architect Tom Arienti to draft a church steeple, but later decided against including the church.
The study and intended final painting for Murder in Mississippi are part of the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum, and have been included in a special section in the Museum’s traveling exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell Museum. The artwork is on view at the Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei in Rome, Italy, from November 11, 2014 through February 8, 2015.
To find out more about Freedom Summer, follow the link Murder in Mississippi.
Image credit: Look magazine, 1965, Norman Rockwell Museum Collection