Freedom Summer activists to share civil rights experiences
September 12, 2012
In 1964, they faced death threats in the name of justice. Now, they're coming to campus to tell their stories.
They were student leaders who established a legacy of civil rights and social justice that survives to this day. And they were largely forgotten.
Nearly 50 years after their efforts in Mississippi in 1964, members of the Freedom Summer Project will reunite at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to share their stories.
"The Freedom Summer Project was one of the most important events of the civil rights movement, yet it has received far less attention than the contributions of more public individuals like Martin Luther King Jr.," said Mark McPhail, dean of the College of Arts and Communication.
At the time, poll taxes, voter ID laws and threats of lynching prevented people from exercising their right to vote. Freedom Summer participants - most of them students - traveled to Mississippi in 1964 to register as many African American voters as they could.
"They risked their lives," McPhail said. "They knew there was a possibility they might not come back, and they went anyway."
Over the course of the project, seven people were killed, 80 workers were beaten, more than 1,000 people were arrested and dozens of black homes and churches were burned or bombed.
UW-Whitewater students will hear firsthand from the people who lived through these times.
Freedom Summer is the theme of this year's Campus Diversity Forum, Sept. 27-28. Speakers will be visiting classes throughout the week, and professors will integrate Freedom Summer into the curriculum. (See right column for list of presenters).
Sweet Honey In The Rock, an all-woman, African-American a cappella ensemble, will peform. These Grammy Award-winning performers express their history as women of color through song, dance and sign language.
McPhail hopes the campus diversity forum will serve as an empowering experience for students.
"Many of today's students don't feel powerful," he said. "Freedom Summer is an example of how students' hard work, discipline and compassion profoundly changed history."
For a schedule and more information on the program, visit the Campus Diversity Forum website.
- Chude Allen, a veteran of the civil rights movement and the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. Allen went on to help found the 1960s radical women's movement and is the co-author of "Reluctant Reformers: Racism and Social Reform Movements in the United States."
- James Kates, a Freedom Summer student volunteer, poet and Russian translator. Kates has published seven books, a chapbook of his own poems, "Mappemonde," and six translations of other poets. For the past nine years, Kates has co-directed the nonprofit literary publishing house Zephyr Press.
- Michael Lipsky, a Washington, D.C.-based Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. Lipsky worked in the Ford Foundation's peace and social justice program and helped assemble the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative. He also taught political science at UW-Madison and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Robert Moses, founder and organizer of the Algebra Project, a concerted effort to bring mathematical literacy to all of America's children. Moses went to Mississippi as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 and established a voter registration project in the state in 1961.
- Charles Neblett, one of the original SNCC Freedom Singers. The quartet, formed in 1962, raised money for the SNCC to help the legendary organization take on Jim Crow laws in some of the most dangerous areas of the South. Neblett served as a field secretary for SNCC from 1961-66.
- Willie B. Wazir Peacock, an organizer for SNCC's Voter Education Project. He later moved to California, where he worked with Stepping Stones Growth Center, an organization that serves developmentally disabled children and adults.
- Karen Haberman Trusty, a white exchange student at Spelman College in the fall of 1963. During the summer of '64 she served as a support person for the SNCC staff, training volunteers in Oxford, Ohio, for Freedom Summer in Mississippi.