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Fifty years after Freedom Summer … Where are we now?

The Dallas Examiner | 6/23/2014, 9:03 a.m.

The Dallas Examiner

This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, sometimes referred to as the Mississippi Summer Project. In June 1964, the campaign was launched to register as many Blacks as possible to vote in Mississippi. Mississippi was chosen because of the low levels of African American voter registration in the state. In 1962, less than 7 percent of the state’s eligible Black voters were registered to vote.

During the summer of 1964, hundreds of young volunteers from across America – including civil rights groups such as the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – joined the initiative led by the Council of Federated Organizations to help residents get registered, put an end to the obstacles set up to keep Blacks from voting and barriers that kept Blacks from being elected to political offices.

The White leadership in Mississippi deeply resented the movement and any attempt to make them change the system in which they had grown comfortable. They used “long-standing tradition” as their platform to sustain support from the White community. The Ku Klux Klan, Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, White Citizens Councils and even local police used threats of physical danger, being arrested, burning down their house or business, and evictions to maintain control of the African American community. They went as far as to murder Blacks to get their point across.

On June 15, hundreds of students – Black and White – began arriving in Mississippi.

Volunteers that entered the state were harassed for their efforts. Mississippi newspapers called the students “unshaven and unwashed trash.” Black neighborhoods, where volunteers were seen working, were sprayed with bullets. They were spied on, harassed, beaten and arrested for their efforts.

The movement lasted 10 weeks. During that time:

• Four civil rights workers were killed.

• At least three Black residents were murdered.

• Four people were critically wounded.

• 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten

• 1,062 people residents and volunteers were arrested.

• 37 churches were bombed or burned.

• 30 Black homes or businesses were bombed or burned.

Many of the murder, bombing and arson cases received insufficient investigations and were unresolved.

Historically, because they were highly publicized, we know about the murders of the three civil rights workers, who we have written about frequently in The Dallas Examiner. On June 21, 1964, three young volunteers were murdered and their bodies buried in an earthen dam: 21-year-old James Earl Chaney, a Black member of CORE, was severely beaten and shot three times; 24-year-old Michael Henry Schwerner, a White CORE organizer, and 20-year-old Andrew Goodman, a White member of CORE, suddenly vanished on June 22. It was later discovered that they had been arrested, jailed and shot at point-blank range.

As a result of the mission, 1,200 African American residents were registered to vote and almost 1,000 African Americans were elected to local and state offices.

Are the sacrifices of those who participated – including those who died – in Freedom Summer to be in vain? Today, more than 7 percent of the Black population in Dallas County is registered to vote. However, Blacks are still not voting.

Are you going to be missing in action? Or are you going to stand and be counted at the polls?

June 21, the exact date that Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were killed, is an election day in Dallas.

Will you show up at the polls?

The Dallas Examiner has posted polling locations in Dallas County on its website at http://www.dallasexaminer.com – scroll over “News” and click on “Politics.”