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When Mississippi schools wouldn’t integrate, Freedom Schools opened doors

BY April Brown and Mike Fritz  August 8, 2014 at 2:49 PM EDT
Herbert Randall, Freedom Summer photographer.  Courtesy: American Experience/WGBH.

Herbert Randall, Freedom Summer photographer. Courtesy: American Experience/WGBH.

In 1964, in a 10-week effort known as Freedom Summer, hundreds of out-of-state volunteers joined local activists in Mississippi to increase voter registration among disenfranchised African Americans in the state. Herbert Randall, a 28-year-old photographer, devoted his summer to documenting the historic movement.

Many of the volunteers worked in the dozens of newly created Freedom Schools, designed to create safe learning environments, establish more rigorous standards and teach students black history and literature — subjects that were not taught in other public schools.

Below are a selection of Randall’s photos.

Freedom School student Cynthia Perteet (left) and volunteer Beth More (right) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964.  More was a teacher in the Freedom School hosted by Mt. Zion Baptist Church.  Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Freedom School student Cynthia Perteet (left) and volunteer Beth More (right) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964. More was a teacher in the Freedom School hosted by Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

 

An elderly an African American man, a resident of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, taken during Freedom Summer, 1964.  Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

An elderly African-American man, a resident of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, taken during Freedom Summer, 1964.

African-American children in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, standing outside of a house during Freedom Summer, 1964.  Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

African-American children in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, stand outside of a house during Freedom Summer, 1964.

A group of teenaged male Freedom School students sitting on and near the porch of a house on Gravel Line Street reading issues of Ebony magazine. Volunteer Arthur Reese (school principal from Detroit, Michigan), co-coordinator of the Freedom Schools in the Hattiesburg project, stands talking to them. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

A group of teenage male Freedom School students sit on and near the porch of a house on Gravel Line Street reading issues of Ebony magazine. Volunteer Arthur Reese (school principal from Detroit, Michigan), co-coordinator of the Freedom Schools in the Hattiesburg project, stands talking to them.

Volunteer Arthur Reese lecturing to a class of Freedom School students at Palmers Crossing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964.  Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Volunteer Arthur Reese lectures to a class of Freedom School students at Palmers Crossing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964.

Four Freedom School students participating in class at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg.  Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Four Freedom School students participate in class at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg.

 

Three young African-American girls sitting together during a Freedom School class at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer 1964. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Three young African-American girls sit together during a Freedom School class at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer 1964.

Carolyn Reese (school teacher from Detroit, Michigan), co-coordinator of the Freedom Schools in the Hattiesburg project, teaching a Freedom School class at an African-American church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964.  Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Carolyn Reese (school teacher from Detroit, Michigan), co-coordinator of the Freedom Schools in the Hattiesburg project, teaches a Freedom School class at an African-American church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, 1964.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary Sandy Leigh (New York City), director of the Hattiesburg project, lecturing Freedom School students in the sanctuary of True Light Baptist Church. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary Sandy Leigh (New York City), director of the Hattiesburg project, lectures Freedom School students in the sanctuary of True Light Baptist Church.

Students Margaret Dwight (left) and Alice Dwight (right) writing at their desks in the Freedom School at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Students Margaret Dwight (left) and Alice Dwight (right) write at their desks in the Freedom School at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

 Volunteer William D. Jones (native of Birmingham, Alabama, and New York public school teacher), who taught in the Freedom School at True Light Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, leaning on the stair rail of St. John United Methodist Church in Palmers Crossing talking with local child Tilton Sullivan. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Volunteer William D. Jones (native of Birmingham, Alabama, and New York public school teacher) who taught in the Freedom School at True Light Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, leans on the stair rail of St. John United Methodist Church in Palmers Crossing talking with local child Tilton Sullivan.

Three local African American children standing in the exhibit area of the Palmers Crossing Community Center where Freedom School students' artwork is on exhibit. The large sign with handprints down the left wall spells "Freedom." Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Three local African-American children stand in the exhibit area of the Palmers Crossing Community Center where Freedom School students’ artwork is on exhibit. The large sign with handprints down the left wall spells “Freedom.”

African-American children at the fish fry given for the volunteers by local civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer on his property at the Kelly Settlement on July 4, 1964. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

African-American children at the fish fry given for the volunteers by local civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer on his property at the Kelly Settlement on July 4, 1964. Photo by Herbert Randall from Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Herbert Randall’s book, “Faces of Freedom Summer,” contains more images from Mississippi in 1964.

Watch the American Experience video about Randall. 

The American Experience documentary Freedom Summer is airing on PBS stations. Check local listings. Additional video clips and information available at www.pbs.org/americanexperience/.

Follow the American Graduate reporting team on Twitter @NewsHourAmGrad and Facebook.

The PBS NewsHour’s education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

 

Images courtesy of Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs collection, McCain Library and Archives, and the University of Southern Mississippi.