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A Tribute to the Freedom Summer of 1964

We at LPK talk about the need for courage in our work. A few weeks ago, I was reminded of what real courage is all about.

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio—just a short drive from our Cincinnati office—celebrated the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. In 1964, over 800 college students from all over the northern United States gathered there to train to become Freedom Summer volunteers in Mississippi.

The Freedom Summer’s mission was to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi, which had the lowest African American voter rate (6.7%) in the U.S. The project also set up Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses and community centers to help the local African American population.

Freedom Summer

(Photo printed in USA Today article. Credit: George R. Hoxie, Associated Press)

According to a recent USA Today article, 1,000 civil rights workers were arrested that summer, 80 Freedom Summer volunteers were beaten, 37 African American churches were bombed or burned, and 4 volunteers died. The project drew national media attention to the plight of African Americans in the South and served as the catalyst for much progress and change in our nation.

Just a few weeks ago, many of the surviving volunteers gathered in Oxford once again to remember that pivotal time in their lives. I was honored to be part of a musical ensemble that led a chorus of aging Freedom Summer volunteers in singing the songs that gave them courage so many years ago—songs like “This Little Light of Mine,” “Jacob’s Ladder” and, of course, “We Shall Overcome.”

FreedomSummer2014

(Photo: Scott Kissell, Senior University Photographer, Miami University)

The importance of protest singing during the Civil Rights era cannot be overstated. It created unity, eased fear and set a rhythm for the marches and pickets. As these inspirational volunteers sang, their courage and youthful exuberance was evident. It was a moment I will always remember.

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