tv Lonnie Bunch on the Freedom Summer Project CSPAN August 3, 2014 8:50pm-9:01pm EDT
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year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 mississippi summer project when more than 2000 volunteers. many of them college students went to mississippi to participate in the voter registration drive courted native by several civil rights organizations. we hear more about the summer of 1964 from lonnie bunch. >> this summer marks 50 years since freedom summer. what is freedom summer? >> it is amazing almost 50 years ago that people throughout the south and throughout the north came together to basically challenge the laws in the south, especially mississippi. the freedom summer was on the one hand a massive voter registration drive. the belief was that if young
people, mainly college-age students, could come from throughout the united states, black and white, they would get training in ohio and college, and they would go down the mississippi and they would reach out to the community. they would help register voters, but they were also do things like create freedom schools that would allow people to get educated in a way that the segregation laws do not allow, so freedom summer was really almost on invasion of people of goodwill going into places like mississippi to basically say if we can register people, we then have the clout. it was an amazing moment. >> how did this get started? >> the student nonviolent cord
coordinating committee and several other organizations began to think about what is the best strategy to effect change? and part of it was so much happened in the south in quiet corners and nobody knew, and you really did not have enough resources to make the change that you wanted, so the belief was that these college students, many of them responded to john kennedy's initial notion of your responsibility to help make america better, and these kids came from all over the country, and many were not really sure what they were getting into. they were trained, they were told how to practice nonviolence, how to be safe, but the reality is you suddenly have all of these people coming to mississippi and really forcing the state to react to them, and they did. they reacted with violence, they reacted with intimidation, but it was also an example of where the violence and intimidation did not stop the plan to register all of these people. >> who are the people that are coming from the north, that are coming from all over the
country, and why mississippi? >> most of the people who come are college-aged students. these are the people who have both the passion, quite honestly, they're not having jobs that are threatened to lose, and they're part of that generation that wants to change america. >> are they mostly african americans? >> it was mostly white students. it is a combination of black-and-white students, a large number of white students coming to the south, and mississippi is really the epicenter of racism, hatred, of pain, and the belief was that if you can change mississippi, you can then change arkansas and texas and georgia. mississippi without a doubt was the place where they were at the greatest risk, and as you know in the summer, freedom summer, almost immediately after began
there was this horrible murder where two of the volunteers from the north and one mississippi native, james chaney, andrew goodman and mike schwerner basically were killed. they were taken by a sheriff, and they were held until the klan could gather together. they were released, and the klan killed them. this became the great fear. they knew that this could happen, and so it was a really painful moment, and what it does is it inspires those who were in mississippi to keep registering, but also again puts national attention on philadelphia and mississippi. the fbi, which often was not very supportive of the civil
rights movement had to find out what happens to these civil rights workers, and ultimately when that was found out, that sense of anger again stimulated more people to come from the north, white and black, and be part of this, so in some ways, what freedom summer does, what the murder of these civil rights workers does is that it gives this country another visible moment where they have got to affect change because this is seen as something that should not happen in a free and fair america. >> you say that mississippi had the greatest risk. there is also possibly a reward there because african-american voter registration is extremely low in mississippi. >> in mississippi, you would have counties that were overwhelmingly african-american that would have only 5% of the voters registered, so there was a real sense, a real fear and
-- in white mississippi to control the black vote, and the reality that sncc realized is that if you cannot even register that vote an increase of by 55%, you suddenly have political clout, you can begin to elect local officials, and in some ways, the strategy worked in a long term. as we look back now, we see mississippi is one of those places with the largest number of county sheriffs and local workers, so the strategy of freedom summer was a good strategy, but it was a strategy not without risk. >> what did they accomplish that summer? >> they accomplished several things. you can inspire young americans to participate in a movement, so that rush of support really plays out throughout the rest of the 1960's.
i think also what they conflict accomplished with freedom summer was the sense that you can empower local people. even though there were a lot of people that came into mississippi, the goal was to follow the leadership of local people, to empower local people like fannie lou hammer, so i think that was very successful. the other thing that the mississippi freedom summer does is that it obviously opens the door to thoughts about how do you protect the rights of people, and it also means a year later the voting rights act is passed, which is the most important act to ensure that the discrimination of people's ability to vote would be done away with. so the freedom summer shone the light on the challenges but again people direction, how to change this, and it is important to the civil rights movement.
>> and in a perspective of 50 >> with the perspective of 50 years, where do you think it fits in? ways, what is so powerful for me about freedom summer is this shows young americans could take leadership and effect for found change. i think it will always be an important moment because of the death of those three civil rights workers. it reminds you that change does not come without cost. us it suggested here was the first moment where you one of the confront worst places ever to work and live and try to make that better. i think they did with freedom summer. >>