Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Freedom Summer (50 Years Old) and Independence Day Thoughts

I was trying to think of an appropriate blog post in honor of Independence Day, when I heard on the radio that this summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

Ahhh. Something I know a little bit about. Something highly meaningful. Something with an interesting curriculum!

What was Freedom Summer? According to the Congress of Racial Equality:

Freedom Summer was a highly publicized campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote during the summer of 1964.
During the summer of 1964, thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, descended on Mississippi and other Southern states to try to end the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region. Although black men had won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise that right. White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings. The inability to vote was only one of many problems blacks encountered in the racist society around them, but the civil-rights officials who decided to zero in on voter registration understood its crucial significance as well the white supremacists did. An African American voting bloc would be able to effect social and political change.Freedom Summer officials also established 30 "Freedom Schools" in towns throughout Mississippi to address the racial inequalities in Mississippi's educational system. Mississippi's black schools were invariably poorly funded, and teachers had to use hand-me-down textbooks that offered a racist slant on American history. Many of the white college students were assigned to teach in these schools, whose curriculum included black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and leadership development in addition to remedial instruction in reading and arithmetic. The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3000. The schools became a model for future social programs like Head Start, as well as alternative educational institutions.Freedom Summer activists faced threats and harassment throughout the campaign, not only from white supremacist groups, but from local residents and police. Freedom School buildings and the volunteers' homes were frequent targets; 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during that summer, and the cases often went unsolved. More than 1000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. But the summer's most infamous act of violence was the murder of three young civil rights workers, a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner set out to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi, but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive before their badly decomposed bodies were discovered under a nearby dam six weeks later. Goodman and Schwerner had died from single gunshot wounds to the chest, and Chaney from a savage beating. (Emphasis added.)

Wait--there was a Freedom Schools Curriculum?

Yes--they took themselves seriously! There was a full and interesting curriculum.
The Freedom Schools met across the state of Mississippi, and you can access the curriculum right here.
Details of the curriculum and PDFs can be found here.

Take a Look

Here is a short excerpt from Unit IV: Introducing the Power Structure.

Concept: That there are many kinds of power we could use to build a better society. What is power? (Power is the ability to move things.) What kinds of power are there? Discuss.

MississippiPolice state
One party
No vote
Unjust laws
Citizens Council
control, banks, jobs etc

Physical Power(Power to coerce or frighten)

Political Power
(Power to influence)

Economic Power
(Power to buy)
Freedom MovementFederal intervention
Convention Challenge
Negro candidates

Do these “powers” balance each other? Do they succeed in bringing the two sides together or do they tend to pull apart? Are there other kinds of power?

Truth Power
(Power to Convince or Persuade)
Does persuasion pull people apart? Is it a different kind of power? Can we use truth to reveal the lies and myths? What happens once they are revealed? Once someone is convinced or persuaded, can they join with us? Is the better world for them too?

Soul Power
(The Power to Love)
Can you love everyone like you love your family or your friends? What does compassion mean? Is that a kind of love? Is there something in other people that is like what is in you? Can soul power change things? How?

The Freedom Schools had a convention in August 1964, and this was the Education Platform that resulted. A lot of it will sound familiar!

     In an age where machines are rapidly replacing manual labor, job opportunities and economic security increasingly require higher levels of education. We therefore demand:
1. Better facilities in all schools. These would include textbooks, laboratories, air conditioning, heating, recreation, and lunch rooms.
2. A broader curriculum including vocational subjects and foreign languages.
3. Low fee adult classes for better jobs.
4. That the school year consist of nine (9) consecutive months.
5. Exchange programs and public kindergarten.
6. Better qualified teachers with salaries according to qualification.
7. Forced retirement (women 62, men 65).
8. Special schools for mentally retarded and treatment and care of cerebral palsy victims.
9. That taxpayers’ money not be used to provide private schools.
10. That all schools be integrated and equal throughout the country.
11. Academic freedom for teachers and students.
12. That teachers be able to join any political organization to fight for Civil Rights without fear of being fired.
13. That teacher brutality be eliminated.

Why do I share all of this? 

Two reasons.

1. From the editors of Education and Democracy,

The Freedom School Curriculum is one of the best examples of an effective progressive curriculum whose goal was to give students academic as well as democratic citizenship skills.  This site includes the original curriculum with supporting primary source materials, a brief historical context (editor’s introduction) and suggestions for how to use the FSC as curriculum today. Among those that we hope will find this material helpful are people starting modern freedom schools, high school and middle school teachers as well as progressive historians and teacher educators.
Photo by Tom Arthur. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Found here:

2. It's Independence Day this week. While we are out celebrating with fireworks, popsicles, parades and barbecues, let's not forget that a lot of the history of this big and beautiful country rests on the right to vote. The original "tea party" wasn't about "no taxation." It was about "no taxation without representation." Voting--it's something we shouldn't take for granted.


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting the Freedom School curriculum! It's inspiring to read. Also, we just saw the PBS documentary "Freedom Summer" - really interesting and enlightening details of that civil rights history. I'm hoping it will be rebroadcast so I can see it again with the child who was absent for the first viewing.