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.