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Freedom Summer changed history, shaped lives


Photo by Ted Polumbaum, courtesy of the Newseum.

What was Freedom Summer?

In the summer of 1964, thousands of civil rights activists went to Mississippi and other Southern states to help African Americans register to vote. At the time, only 6.7 percent of African Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote, the lowest rate in the country. Most of the activists were young white college students from the North.

Many suffered during that summer. Three young volunteers — James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner — were murdered, churches, homes and businesses were burned. Activists were beaten by white mobs or police. At the same time, black and white Methodists and members of the Evangelical United Brethren Church were working alongside others to keep the efforts non-violent.

However, Freedom Summer left a positive legacy. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed in part because the country had been educated by Freedom Summer.

Personal memories

These are reflections written by people who were in Mississippi that summer or elsewhere in the world watching and praying. It also contains reflections from those too young to participate but who feel blessed and influenced by the struggles of their Christian brothers and sisters during that summer 50 years ago.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on.

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A photo taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial shows part of the 200,000 crowd from the 1963 Civil Rights March on the District of Columbia.

Long-ago summer set course for many United Methodists

The more than 700 student volunteers who took part in Freedom Summer included United Methodists. Others were influenced by what they saw, heard, or read about in 1964. Read More

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The Rev. Fred B. Morris (right) and Archbishop Dom Helder Camara pose in a 1974 file photo taken two weeks after Morris was released from a torture chamber due to his association with Camara.

Freedom Summer inspired ministry ‘from that day to this’

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The Rev. George McClain, executive director emeritus, Methodist Federation for Social Action Adjunct Faculty: New York Theological Seminary, The College of New Jersey.

‘In Mississippi I learned what church is’

The Rev. George D. McClain remembers the 1964 Freedom Summer as beginning of his theological education. Read More

Rontrell reads the book

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Dorothy Smith, dean of the college of general studies at Dillard University in New Orleans.

Freedom School leads to fulfillment of dream

A youthful Freedom School experience introduced a Dillard dean to Black History, a foreign language and photography. Read More

A couple lingers following the I Have A Dream Speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.

Living the legacy of Freedom Summer

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Photo taken in 2012 shows state history marker at Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

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Bishop Joseph C. Sprague attends a Freedom School in the West Ohio Conference in 2011. He was part of the first Freedom Schools in Mississippi in 1964.

Freedom Summer remains vision of hope

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Edith Lee-Payne celebrated her 12th birthday listening to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. give his

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Retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert .A UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin.

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