In the summer of 1964, hundreds of volunteers and civil rights activists from across America came to Mississippi to challenge the state’s history of segregation and racial violence and register African-Americans to vote. This summer marked the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was recognized during a week-long conference held in Jackson, Miss., in June. The event was attended by veterans of the civil rights movement, including Bob Moses, as well as authors, filmmakers and actors like Danny Glover.
Led by Joan Wynne, program leader for the master’s program in urban education at FIU, a group of FIU graduate students drove 18 hours by bus to attend the conference, along with 12 middle and high school students from Liberty City. The trip was also supported by The Education Effect, FIU’s university community school partnership with schools in Liberty City and Overtown. Below are some of their stories from the historic event.
Terrod Torrence, 24, grew up in Liberty City and worked at Miami Northwestern Senior High School this summer as part of the Algebra Project with civil rights leader Bob Moses. He begins this fall as a student in the FIU College of Law.
The entire Freedom Summer 50 experience was quite memorable. I have never been in a setting with so many African-American people gathered with a single positive interest in mind. Not only were the events informative but they were also progressive. For those of us who were familiar with the historical context of the Freedom Summer, the entire week linked things we’d learned to tangible locations.
We were fortunate enough to go on a day-long tour to actually view some historic locations and speak to a few local survivors of this troubling era. It was great to research incidents as critical in African-American history as the murders of [civil rights volunteers] James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, but it was even more powerful to actually see the places they were believed to have been murdered and dumped.
One thing that seemed somewhat surreal was that the buses required a police escort. This forced me to ponder the scrutiny and harassment that African-American passengers experienced on buses decades ago. It was also an ironic experience for some of the children on the trip with us. Being from the inner city of Miami, some of them said they were not used to feeling so protected by law enforcement.
However, the week was not totally dedicated to reminiscing on such harsh realities. We were also able to experience staples of African-American culture in the South, such as church congregations, theater and soul food. Having never attended a historically black college/university, I was not aware of the history that is present on campuses such as Jackson State University or Tougaloo College. Lodging and tours of these campuses were a phenomenal experience for all of us, especially the younger students on the trip. Most of us had not ever experienced such extensive exposure to true southern life.
Though it was capsuled into a week’s time, the magnitude of the people that were present and the topics that were explored were exceedingly profound. The speakers that were the most impactful for me were actor Danny Glover, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund and Bob Moses, who founded the Algebra Project, which I participated in this summer at Miami Northwestern.
This trip caused me to really reflect on something I’d shared with one of my peers about taking for granted the presence of some of our living legends. I have been fortunate enough to not only witness Dr. Moses speak on a public platform but also to work directly with him on numerous occasions. The humility and integrity with which he conducts himself betray the magnitude of his life efforts. His story is what Freedom Summer 50 was all about. As I found myself surrounded by history and potential for progression, I realized that African-Americans have come so far but still can go so much further.
Dakota Siler-Cooper, 16, is a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
I went on the trip to Mississippi because I knew it would be a great experience for me to visit the hometown of civil rights leader Bob Moses; I am also very interested in history so I knew the trip was going to be educational and fun. The highlight for me was taking a tour of Philadelphia, Mississippi, the scene of the murders of three civil rights activists, Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Schwerner. In addition to Bob Moses, I met Danny Glover, Julian Bond, one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the mother of one of the three men who were killed during Freedom Summer.
From this experience, I learned that many of the civil rights activists grew up in hard times, but most importantly, they were Freedom Fighters. This experience changed my outlook on the world because I see many people take for granted our voting rights, public schools, driving and many other things that they think are their rights. The experience showed me that a lot of things in life are a privilege not a right. After high school, I plan to go on to a university and pursue a career in psychology. I also want to participate in the ROTC program and be a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
Camilo Sanchez, 26, is a master’s student in urban education at FIU.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, I am watching Colombia and the Ivory Coast play each other in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I am as excited about attending the anniversary as these soccer players are to represent their country in this beautiful event. Five days later, I am on a bus destined to Jackson, Mississippi, where 50 years earlier freedom fighters from across the nation came together to bring light to the constant oppression of African-Americans, and in doing so, shaped the history of human and civil rights of the country.
I am accompanied by public school students and teachers from Miami. Being surrounded by veteran teachers has been a blessing in my pursuit to be a teacher. They have supported me and given me valuable insight into the realities of this most beautiful profession. Some of these realities are alarming.
“In the years since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the customary role of adults to look out for children and offer role models to help guide them to adulthood has weakened.” – David Dennis, Freedom Rider
Like Dennis, I believe our effectiveness to lead children has weakened. Despite this discouraging conclusion, I am, again and again, encouraged by the work of many who actively try to change things. Like Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund. I was thrilled to be in the same room with her at Holmes Hall in Tougaloo College.
Watching and listening, in my mind ran the memory of her demand for the U.S. to invest more in children: “The budget is not fair, Mr. Chair (of the House Budget Committee.) What is good for the rich should be good for the poor, and we should be looking at our budget investments as things that bring people together, close the divisions, closing the gaps between us and the have-nots, and if government welfare with big corporations is okay, it should be also okay for poor children.”
“When I was in school, my teacher knocked down to the ground a stack of books I had just organized. She said I was good for nothing because she disliked how I stacked them.” – Victoria, Math Literacy Worker.
This is the story Victoria, a math literacy worker with the Algebra Project, tells of her childhood experience. Victoria believes that if a person does not like their job, they should do something else. Her philosophy reminds me of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher, who called for teachers to take their teaching practice seriously. Freire said that the act of studying, teaching, learning, knowing, though difficult and demanding, is also pleasant. Therefore, teachers who fail to take their teaching practice seriously and who do not study, disqualify themselves as teachers. This, I believe, is where the teaching profession is sometimes weak. It is represented by some who do not like to study, to learn, to know and, thinking of Victoria’s teacher, maybe even teach.
My lessons learned from Freedom Summer 50 – There is neither a beginning nor an end to the work for equality, human, and civil rights. Individual work and contributions can be game-changers to the collective effort. Young people have demands to make but we must support them to grow their movement. If you are not a rebel, you are a victim.
“Overcoming fear does not mean you do not fear anything. It means reaching a point when you are not afraid to say what needs to be said” – Hollis Watkins, civil rights activist
Gina Greenidge is the site coordinator for The Education Effect at Miami Northwestern Senior High in Liberty City.
For the past two years, I have been the site coordinator for FIU’s Office of Engagement initiative called The Education Effect, a university community school partnership in Liberty City. In those two years I have had the privilege of working with inspirational and educational advocates for urban youth like Joan Wynne, who leads the master’s program in urban education at FIU, Maria Lovett, director of The Education Effect at Miami Northwestern, and civil rights leader Bob Moses. These people have helped shaped my position on equity in education and in turn have motivated me to personalize my work with my students in Liberty City.
This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Jackson, Mississippi to take part in the Youth Congress, the educational conference related to the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer with students from Liberty City, the majority of whom participate in the Algebra Project, an innovative program that helps students in math, science and civics. While the 18-hour bus ride wasn’t something I was looking forward to, I was excited to take youth from the urban core of Miami to travel beyond the streets of the “Magic City” to participate in the commemoration of a major historical event that highlighted a legendary figure in history they see every month in their Algebra Project classrooms whom they affectionately know simply as “Mr. Bob.”
Despite meeting the likes of Marian Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, Julian Bond, who co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Dave Dennis, who participated in the first freedom ride, I was also moved by seeing students like Ross Torreau, quiet by nature, step up to the microphone and make affirmations for his education, his community, and his peers in order to see students in Liberty City educated more efficiently and equitably. I was moved by meeting Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, a white woman who became a Freedom Rider in the 1960s in Mississippi, was the first white woman to integrate the all-black college of Tougaloo, actively participated in sit-ins in Mississippi and was sent to the state penitentiary for her participation in the civil rights movement.
I was deeply moved to see my 10-year-old son speak with clarity about the historical content and leaders of the civil rights movement like Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon. Lastly, I was moved by a group of teachers and FIU students of Latino background, who took the historical content of Freedom Summer combined with their opinions on inequities in public education and, during our 18-hour bus ride back to Miami, spoke about how they could get involved in Liberty City. This entire experience was truly the university community school partnership at work!
Photos from an exhibition on the civil rights movement at Tougaloo College: