The good man behind Goodman Mountain

TUPPER LAKE – It’s easy to feel removed from everyday life while sitting on top of Goodman Mountain.

One can get lost in glimpses of the High Peaks, in the up-close look at nearby Coney Mountain and in the panorama of the surrounding lakes and forests.

A little searching around the summit reveals that there is evidence of history there, too. A name, Billy Goodman, is painted in faded white letters that stretch across a section of the rocky cobble.

Underneath the name is a date, 1938. It was around that time the Goodman family bought a summer home in Tupper Lake, south of the village, not far from the base of the 2,176-foot mountain. Their story is like many others – they were drawn to the Adirondacks and left New York City every summer to visit the area.

Billy’s name is a reminder of the family that loved the mountain, but it is his nephew, Andrew Goodman, for whom the peak is named. Andrew was the kind of person who made it his goal to not only understand the injustices faced by others, but to also help overcome them.

Andrew became involved in human rights at a young age. When he was 15, he visited coal miners in West Virginia to learn about how they worked in life-threatening conditions yet still lived in poverty. After that, he participated in a sit-in in New York City to protest segregation at Woolworth’s lunch counters in the South, and in 1964 he went to Meridian, Mississippi, to work on the Congress of Racial Equality’s Freedom Summer project.

“He was kind of an ordinary kid who did something extraordinary,” brother David Goodman said. “He was one of 900 kids who went to Mississippi that summer to register African Americans to vote. My brother, pretty simply, believed that things should be fair. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness equal protection under the law were what we learned, and he found out that wasn’t necessarily true for all the people in our country.”

The fact that 60 percent of Mississippi’s population was prevented from voting because of their skin color didn’t seem fair to Andrew, so he set out to help change that. The trip cost him his life on June 21, 1964, when Ku Klux Klan members murdered him and two fellow activists, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. It was Andrew’s first day in Mississippi. He was 20 years old.

“You want to talk about homegrown terrorism; that was a police state for black people,” David said. “If you spoke up, you got censured or, in the extreme case, shot. That happened frequently.”

The burned remainder of the Ford station wagon the men had been traveling in was discovered by FBI agents in a swamp about 15 miles northeast of Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three men’s bodies were found Aug. 4, 1964, buried near a dam a few miles southwest of Philadelphia.

The FBI accused 21 Mississippi men of being associated with the murder. Seven were convicted, and none served more than six years in prison.

Forty-one years later, on June 21, 2005, an eighth man, Edgar Ray Killen, a local minister at the time of the killings, was convicted by a Neshoba county Grand Jury of three consecutive 20-year sentences for manslaughter in connection with the murders. It was the first time the state of Mississippi took action against the perpetrators.

Adirondack lessons

David, who is the youngest of the three Goodman boys, described Andrew as quiet, but said behind that humble exterior was a deliberate sense of justice and a strong desire to make things right. Inklings of that passion were even present during Andrew’s childhood.

“He actually wasn’t much of a talker; he would just get a sense of what was going on,” David said. “There was a bully in school once. We all went to the same school, and I saw this happen. He went up to the bully, who was as big as him, and said, ‘If you want to pick on a smaller kid, pick on me.’ That was an even match, and that’s the kind of thing he did.”

As Andrew got older, he became more involved in activism, but in the summer, he always came to the Adirondacks with his family.

As much as the real-world experiences taught Andrew, David said the family vacations taught him things, too.

“We were born and raised in New York City, which is a concrete jungle,” David said. “Most of my friends who weren’t fortunate enough to get to go into the Adirondack State Park didn’t really appreciate nature the way we did. What our parents told us is, if you don’t take care of what you have, you lose it. There was that general lesson, of taking care of your assets. Our Constitution is an asset, but if you don’t take care of it, you lose it. In the case of nature, we’ve seen in our lifetime that when you abuse nature, you’re going to lose it. Whether it’s the Constitution or nature, it’s all the same. That’s the lesson we grew up with.”

David has taken that lesson to heart. His parents, Robert and Carolyn, started the Andrew Goodman Foundation in 1966 to continue Andrew’s legacy of standing up for human rights.

David, who still has a home in Tupper Lake and is on The Wild Center nature museum’s advisory board, is the president of that foundation.

“The Andrew Goodman Foundation is basically taking an iconic story in our history and saying, ‘How do we pay that story forward today?'” David said. “It’s usually young people who make change and insist on it. Our vision is: Everyone takes action to create a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. That may sound simplistic, but that’s what Andrew Goodman did and so did 900 other people. They helped change the United States of America.”

David said the foundation has various programs aimed at engaging college students in how to enact change through organization and communication. The foundation also gives out the Andrew Goodman Journalism Scholarship for Civil Rights every year.

Goodman Mountain

In 2001, Tupper Lake historian and former mayor Bill Frenette began a campaign to get Litchfield Mountain renamed Goodman Mountain. A year later, the United States Board on Geographic Names approved his request and the change was official. The mountain that was visited annually by the Goodman family could finally bear their name.

“Tupper Lake had a big impact on us,” David said. “We were constantly outside, and we climbed up that mountain frequently, like a little army.”

Bill Frenette died Dec. 20, 2007, but his brother, Jim, has joined town of Tupper Lake Councilman John Quinn in fulfilling his goal of a designated trail up Goodman Mountain. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has approved an amendment to the area’s unit management plan, but in order for the trail to happen, the state Adirondack Park Agency must approve that amendment. Frenette and Quinn expect that decision to happen soon.

“It’s a way of carrying on Bill’s legacy,” Jim Frenette said. “He was the town historian, and he thought it was a big part of our history. This boy who came up here and was a big part of the community went to Mississippi and was killed for a great effort in the Civil Rights movement. Bill was a stickler for calling things what they are, and he wanted that called Goodman Mountain.”

The proposed route for the trail is marked with ribbons. It begins at the back of a dirt parking area on state Route 30, about 7 miles south of Tupper Lake village, just north of the Coney Mountain trailhead. Next to the parking area is an old springhouse Andrew’s grandfather, Charles Goodman, built.

The trail crosses Lumberjack Spring and follows an old road, which is practically lined with red trillium, at a gradual grade around the base of the mountain. About halfway to the top, the trail diverges from the road and begins a gradual climb toward the summit, avoiding any steep sections along the way.

If things go as planned, Quinn said the town of Tupper Lake would like to invite state and local representatives to a ceremony this summer to announce the opening of the new trail.

“The DEC was talking about putting a kiosk near the trailhead at some point, explaining who Andrew Goodman was,” Quinn said. “That’s our hope, anyway. I think this is just a logical conclusion to what Bill started.”

For more information on the Goodman Foundation, visit www.andrewgoodman.org.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.