Within the first few days of the conference, I met a bus driver by the name of Brother Allen Muhammad. Striking up a conversation with this man led to one of the most eye opening portions of my trip. After explaining a little bit about my project, he and his colleague offered to give me a tour of Western Jackson; one of the more dilapidated areas in Jackson, Mississippi. Ironically, West Jackson borders the wealthy college town of Jackson State University. So when we passed from one area to the next, the contrast was that much more shocking. Derelict buildings stood next to shack shops and garbage littered the streets. And as we drove further they explained that crime, drug use, and prostitution were just a few repercussions of this poverty stricken area.
During the drive, Allen and his friend Abram Muhammad shared several stories. They explained to me that individuals from the more affluent neighborhoods regularly drive down to west Jackson in order to dump their garbage. At first I was a bit skeptical until he drove me past a common dumping area. A huge motorboat and other, once expensive items were thrown everywhere. “Now where could you see someone from this area affording that?” Abram explained to further prove his point. However the most disturbing thing I witnessed that day occurred when Abram showed me his daughter’s high school.
Jim Hill High School is one of the best high schools in Jackson. They are known for providing students with wonderful college opportunities after graduating. However when we drove past Jim Hill, my jaw nearly hit the ground. A graveyard the size of half a football field flanked the entrance of the school. There was even a broken pavement pathway leading through the graveyard and up to the school. Keep in mind that this one of the best high schools in the area.Here students are not just faced with the pressure of academic success, but they are literally faced with the idea of mortality every single day on their way to school. I could hardly believe it. But for many students of West Jackson this is just another aspect of daily life. After all crime and gun violence are all too common in this neighborhood.
The meaning of this article is not to pity the people of Jackson, or the condition that they live in. After all it takes a strong and tenacious people to live in such rough conditions and be as kind and hospitable as the majority were. Rather this is meant to express the idea that injustice is very real. Seeing this side of Mississippi not only shook me, but it opened my eyes and broke my heart. The reality is that there is a HUGE struggle and amount of social poverty in Jackson. And this all stems from factors that I probably still don’t even fully understand. But now that the problem is apparent, the question becomes: what can be done to help heal this part of Mississippi?
Now that you know the history and a few terms associated with the movement (that is, if you read this). The question remains: How does Freedom Summer look today? Or as my mom would probably say, “What did you guys spend a week doing in Mississippi anyhow?”
If you want a short answer:
Workshops, networking and LOTS of dialogue.
If you want a longer answer:
Besides learning about the history of the movement, meeting folks, and shaking our ‘groove thang’ every once and a while, we met with activist groups from around the country. Much like the original volunteers of the 1960’s, these activists boldly fight for modern issues; Issues that are relevant to our time. For example: LGTB rights, Youth voting rights, School to Prison Pipeline issues, and the list goes on.
Each group dominated discussions with an incredible wealth of knowledge and personal investment in their particular issue. However, regardless of the various interests and goals of these many activists, the common strand is this: they are all fighting for rights. And might I say, very passionately.
But don’t take my word for it, check out this short video of our time during Freedom Summer!
This summer, thanks to members of St. Paul’s, GC faculty, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs; a few GC alumni and I had the opportunity to spend a week in Jackson, Mississippi. We spent seven days celebrating and documenting the 50th Anniversary of a Civil Rights program known as Freedom Summer.
What is Freedom Summer?
Glad you asked! Hang tight for this brief history lesson:
In 1869, the 15th Amendment passed giving black males the right to vote. However, by the 1940′s a meager 3% of blacks were registered to vote due to discriminatory Jim Crow Laws. As a result blacks suffered little to no representation on issues that affected their daily lives. This is where Freedom Summer comes into play!
During the 1960′s a civil rights organization known as COFO (The Council of Federated Organizations) organized a program known as ‘The Mississippi Summer Project’. Through this program, volunteers from around the country were sent to Mississippi in an attempt to help mobilize local blacks to participate in voting registration. The majority of the volunteers were white and Jewish college recruits hoping to bring attention to the injustices of the south and demonstrate solidarity for the struggle.
The oppressive nature of Jim Crow culture and racist organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan, strongly pressured blacks against registering and greatly threatened those who did. Volunteers often suffered the same discrimination, intimidation and violence as the black community; sometimes even resulting in death. In fact, the original Freedom Summer program began with the murder of three volunteers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner). None the less, volunteers continued to urge local blacks to register through means of canvassing, education and encouragement.
There is so much more to be said about this program, but like I mentioned early this is only a BRIEF history lesson.
Today the program has turned into a culmination of activist networking and reflection on the sacrifices of the past Freedom Summer organizations. We were lucky enough to make it to the 50thanniversary where many of the original COFO (SNCC and CORE) volunteers literally mingled and shared history with young aspiring activists like myself. Regardless to say, the first day of Freedom Summer was definitely a HUGE interactive history lesson for me personally. Especially being an African American woman, this event taught me a powerful lesson about my own history. Such as how hard so many fought so that I would be able to fearlessly exercise my right to vote. This year when voting time rolls around, I’ll cast my vote with a new outlook and tremendously more gratitude for those who paved the way.
Although Freedom Summer had a large amount of passionate youth fighting for the rights of black voters, the movement was directionless without the strong leadership of its elders. The freedom summer volunteers needed someone with practical experience, passion and charisma to help guide them. What they got was a force to be reckoned with.
In 1962, a former sharecropper by the name of Fannie Lou Hamer joined the movement as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (One of the many organizations under COFO). Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t new to the scene. She had fervently been fighting for the cause years before the Mississippi Freedom Summer was organized. And unlike her wide-eyed counterparts, Fannie Lou Hamer possessed a sober reality of the struggle.
As a Mississippi native, she had first hand experience with the poor conditions of blacks caused by Jim Crow society. After all, she experienced it daily. Her work as a Sharecropper was cut short due to her involvement in the movement. However she explained: “[when] They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people”.
During the course of her fight for justice she was beaten, jailed, harassed and even sterilized. Yet despite those hardships, she managed to infuse hope, energy and longevity into the fight for black voting rights. Most notably Hamer was able to bring national attention to the voting issues of Mississippi during a televised session of the 1964 Democratic Convention. No one knew the struggle better than her, and very few attacked the issue as passionately as she.
Once again i’ve have had the chance to interview a different person in different parts of the cultural world. this week our interview is with Dr. Richard Huston talking on his role in the multi-cross cultural affairs board and what his role in the advisory board.
Quoted by Dr. Richard Huston: ”
Every year, the history department, the office of cross-cultural and multi-cultural programs, and the inter-cultural affairs board cooperate to host a Hispanic festival in the fall, and a multi-cultural festival in the spring. This coming spring we want to mix it up a bit by having a Cinco de Mayo festival, featuring a full-blown Mariachi band. The general contours of this celebration have yet to take shape, but with the History of Mexico class involved, it’s sure to be a memorable event.”