Bender Family Donates to Neshoba Library

By: University of Mississippi
By: University of Mississippi

The widow of a slain civil rights worker and her children have contributed funds to a civil rights library collection in Philadelphia, Miss., where the activist was murdered 42 years ago.

Following a recent speaking engagement at the University of Mississippi, Rita Schwerner Bender announced her honorarium to the Neshoba County Library.

"Education will be the key to breaking old patterns of racism and exclusion," said Susan Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at UM. "The Bender family's understanding of this truth is an inspiring example to the rest of us who should equally invest our time and resources in the project of justice and reconciliation."

Now an attorney living in Seattle, Bender was married to Michael "Mickey" Schwerner when he, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County during Freedom Summer 1964. Last June, Edgar Ray Killen was brought to trial and convicted for his role in the murders.

Bender later married Bill Bender, and their children, Gabriel and Johanna, have also contributed to the honorarium. The family is encouraging others to show their generosity as well.

Glisson said Bender's gift expands the Collier-Mars Civil Rights Collection, established at the Neshoba County Public Library by the multiracial Philadelphia Coalition, which in 2004 led the call for justice in the Neshoba murders. The coalition announced the Collier-Mars Collection last summer during its civil rights educational summit jointly sponsored by the Winter Institute.

The collection is named in honor of the Rev. Clinton Collier and Florence Mars. Collier, a longtime activist in the NAACP, delivered the graveside eulogy for Chaney; Mars was among the few local whites to initially denounce the murders, and as a result eventually lost her lumber business in Philadelphia.

While the collection consists primarily of children's books, selections for both children and adults are to be added as donations increase, said Madonna J. Green, director of the library.

"It's the most gracious thing for Mrs. Bender to do and we appreciate it," Mars said.

For more information or to make donations to the library, contact Glisson at or Green at

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