From The Collection: Images from Freedom Summer

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Volunteer Barbara Schwartzbaum, who was a teacher in the Freedom School at Morning Star Baptist Church, and local African American residents sing during Freedom Summer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 1964.

 

From my adopted hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, I’ve been thinking about Freedom Summer.

Now that we are a month away from the fiftieth anniversary of that historic summer, many people are recalling and taking action, planning and preparing. Many of today’s Jewish activists are writing articles, developing programs and setting action goals in honor of the large Jewish volunteer contingent that traveled from Northern cities to spend their summer fighting for civil rights in Mississippi 50 years ago.

I’ve been working on plans for the commemoration here in Jackson and am enamored by the vast collection of archival material available. Those involved with the movement that summer risked their lives to promote civil rights and they volunteered knowing they were going to make history.

Luckily for people like me, they were great collectors. And even luckier, dedicated archivists have put countless hours into digitizing the collections. The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), and perhaps more surprisingly the Wisconsin Historical Society, both have enormous and well organized (easily searchable!) collections available online. Here are a few of my favorite photos and documents from the USM collection, which all feature Hattiesburg volunteers.

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A group of volunteers and local African-American residents hold a meeting regarding voter registration in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964.

A handwritten list of Freedom Summer volunteers and staff in Hattiesburg written by Joe Ellin. The list gives the volunteers’ religion, race, approximate age, and their work site. There are tally marks for the statistics on the lower right corner. Symbols on the list include a Star of David to denote a Jewish volunteer, a cross for Catholics, and “N” for Negroes.

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Volunteers and local African American children and teenagers gather outside Priest Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Palmers Crossing, Mississippi, for Freedom School registration during Freedom Summer.

 

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Volunteer Johanna “Johnnie” Winchester, and Sandy Leigh, SNCC Field Secretary and COFO-Hattiesburg Project Director

There is a  sense of community and camaraderie among the diverse volunteers in these scenes.

Volunteers learned  to rely on each other and worked hard to build community in their temporary camps throughout the state. I see familiar joyful, pensive and exhausted looks that are common among the faces of today’s social activists. The work is not finished and similar efforts are still occurring in church basements and community centers in Mississippi, right here, right now.

We are happy people are commemorating the important work of local and national volunteers, shining a spotlight on the power of working together for change. But we also know what many people still think about Mississippi today. So this summer we’ve got a different idea.

Instead of reading about the work of Jewish volunteers 50 years ago, we want you to come here and create your own stories. We believe learning from Civil Rights veterans and contemporary social justice activists here in Mississippi and from throughout the nation, against the backdrop of this complicated, challenging, and important state, is a great opportunity to highlight what Mississippi has to offer.

Interested? Awesome, you’re my kind of blog reader. Fill our this interest form on our website here and we’ll be in touch about how to get you here! See you at the Freedom Summer 50th anniversary, when once again, Jewish activists will join hands with our neighbors to make things better.

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Posted on June 2, 2014

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