Alton Wayne Roberts

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Alton Wayne Roberts
Roberts's mugshot (1964)
Born(1938-04-06)April 6, 1938
DiedSeptember 11, 1999(1999-09-11) (aged 61)
Meridian, Mississippi, U.S.
Resting placeQuitman, Mississippi, U.S.
Occupation(s)Bar owner, salesman, truck driver
Criminal statusDeceased
SpouseLinda Walker
MotiveWhite supremacy
Conviction(s)Conspiracy to deprive rights (18 U.S.C. § 241)
Criminal penalty10 years imprisonment
VictimsJames Chaney, 21
Andrew Goodman, 20
Michael Schwerner, 24
CountryUnited States

Alton Wayne Roberts (April 6, 1938 – September 11, 1999) was an American murderer and white supremacist. Roberts, a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was convicted for his role in the 1964 Freedom Summer murders. He was the one who fatally shot two of the victims, CORE civil rights activists Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Roberts also shot the third activist, James Chaney, but it is debated by some that it was another accomplice, James Jordan, who had killed him. Jordan had identified Roberts as Chaney's killer. In 1967, he was charged and convicted of depriving the slain activists of their civil rights.

Early life[edit]

Alton Wayne Roberts, who went by Wayne for most of his life, was born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi. He was the second youngest child of Clyde Cuthell Roberts and Eula Juanita Quinnelly, and grew up with three brothers, Lee, Lyod, and Raymond.[1][2][3] Roberts played football during high school.[4]

Roberts, then 26 years old,[5] owned a bar and was worked as a window salesman and a mobile home salesman, at the time of the murders.[4][6][7] He previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps, from which he was dishonorably discharged for drunkenness and absence without leave. He was married to Linda Walker and had no children.

Freedom Summer murders[edit]

In the afternoon of June 21, 1964, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner arrived at Longdale to inspect a burned out black church in Neshoba County, which had been attacked and vandalised by the local chapter of the KKK. They left Longdale around 3 p.m. They were to be in Meridian by 4 p.m. that day. The fastest route to Meridian was through Philadelphia. At the fork of Beacon & Main Street their station wagon sustained a flat tire. It is possible that a shot was fired at the station wagon's tire. Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey's home was near the Beacon and Main Street fork. Deputy Cecil Price soon arrived and escorted them to the county jail. Price released the trio as soon as the longest day of the year became night which was about 10 p.m. The three were last seen heading south in their Ford station wagon along Highway 19 toward Meridian.

Two Mississippi Highway Patrol men waited at Pilgrim's Gas Station not far from Philadelphia's city limits. The trio was likely deterred from using a phone at the station. They drove past the station and continued toward Meridian.

Lynch mob[edit]

The lynch mob, in Horace D. Barnette's and Billy W. Posey's cars, was drinking while arguing who would kill the three men. Eventually Philadelphia Police Officer Other N. Burkes drove up to Barnette's car and told the mob that "they're going on 19 toward Meridian. Follow them!" After a quick rendezvous with Philadelphia Police Officer Richard Willis, Price was in pursuit of the three civil rights workers. Posey's Chevrolet carried Jerry M. Sharpe, Jimmy L. Townsend, and Alton W. Roberts. Horace Barnette had a two-toned blue Ford Fairlane sedan. In Horace's car were James Jordan, Jimmy K. Arledge, Jimmy Snowden, Roberts, and Posey. Posey's car apparently had carburetor problems and broke down on the side of the road. Sharpe and Townsend were ordered to stay with the car and get it running again. Price eventually caught the CORE station wagon heading west toward Union, Mississippi, on state highway 492.

Soon the three civil rights workers would be escorted north on Highway 19 to secluded Rock Cut Road where they would be executed at the hands of Roberts and Jordan.

When they arrived, Roberts reportedly pulled Schwerner out of the car, pointing a gun at his chest. "Are you that nigger lover?" Roberts asked, his left hand on Schwerner's shoulder. "Sir, I know just how you feel," Schwerner replied. Roberts then shot him in the heart and then grabbed Goodman, shooting him in the chest near his right shoulder. Chaney ran, but Roberts along with other Klansmen were able to shoot him dead before he could run any farther. Roberts fired into Chaney's lower back and his head.[6] Prosecutors said that Roberts fired two of the three bullets found in Chaney's body.[4] After the murders James Jordan was accused of saying "well, you didn't leave me nothing but a nigger, but at least I killed me a nigger."


On December 4, 1964, The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested several men for engineering a conspiracy to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.[8] Roberts was one of many rounded up that day.

Roberts was indicted on February 28, 1967. He went to federal trial in Meridian on October 7 of that same year; 13 days later, he was convicted.[9] At the sentencing hearing on December 29, 1967, Judge William Harold Cox sentenced Roberts to 10 years in federal prison.[6][9][10] Roberts served no more than six years in McNeil Island Corrections Center,[11] and was free on appeal bond.[7][12]

Assault of Laurens Pierce[edit]

Roberts gained national recognition on January 27, 1965, for getting into a fight with CBS cameraman Laurens Pierce outside the federal courthouse in Meridian where he was on trial at the time.[13] Roberts had grabbed Pierce's camera as he was taking pictures of him, which escalated when Roberts punched Pierce during the struggle. Jack Thornell took photos of Roberts beating up the reporter,[14] with the incident becoming widely circulated in the U.S. press the next day.[15][16] In 1968, Roberts filed a diversity suit against Pierce, alleging that he had been the one to initiate the altercation, which ultimately did not go to court.[17]


According to People, Roberts was running a "seedy after-hours bar" in 1989.[4] The bar was located on Virginia Drive in Meridian, Mississippi.

He died on September 11, 1999.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Feldman, Jay (2012). Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307388230.
  2. ^ Chalmers, David Mark (2005). Backfire: How the Ku Klux Klan Helped the Civil Rights Movement. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742523111.
  3. ^ Sims, Patsy (1996). The Klan. University Press of Kentucky. p. 298. ISBN 9780813108872. alton wayne roberts.
  4. ^ a b c d McWhorter, Diane (9 January 1989). "Since Mississippi Burned". People. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  5. ^ Mars, Florence (1989). Witness in Philadelphia. LSU Press. ISBN 9780807115664.
  6. ^ a b c Ladd, Donna (21 June 2004). "Down a Southern Road". Jackson Free Press. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  7. ^ a b Faulkner, Leesha (12 June 2005). "Cast of characters from 37 years ago has changed". Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Archived from the original on 11 March 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  8. ^ Nevin, David (December 1964). "Day of Accusation in Mississippi". Life. pp. 36–37.
  9. ^ a b Putnam, Richelle (2011). Lauderdale County, Mississippi: A Brief History. The History Press. ISBN 9781609490218.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Dickerson, James (1998). Dixie's Dirty Secret: The True Story of how the Government, the Media, and the Mob Conspired to Combat Integration and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. M.E. Sharpe. p. 151. ISBN 9780765603401. alton wayne roberts.
  11. ^ ‘Ex-Sheriff Rainey: He’s Haunted by the Past’; The Boston Globe, September 22, 1974, p. 280
  12. ^ Johnston, Araminta Stone (2010). And One Was a Priest: The Life and Times of Duncan M. Gray Jr. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604738292.
  13. ^ CBS cameraman Laurens Pierce, left, struggles for his camera with Alton Wayne Roberts outside the Federal Building in Meridian, Miss., Jan. 27, 1965. Roberts, a defendant in civil rights slayings, punched Pierce moments later. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)
  14. ^ Alton Wayne Roberts, right punches CBS cameraman Laurens Pierce outside the Federal Building in Meridian, Miss., Jan. 27, 1965. Roberts, a 26-year-old salesman, was a defendant in the deaths of three civil rights workers. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)
  15. ^ "24 More Arrests in Alabama Voter Drive". Chicago Tribune. 28 January 1965. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  16. ^ "17 Deny Slaying Plot Guilt". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 28 January 1965. Archived from the original on 27 April 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Alton Wayne Roberts, Appellant, v. Laurens Pierce et al., Appellees, 398 F.2d 954 (5th Cir. 1968)". Justia Law. Retrieved 2023-04-06.

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