Educational resources from Freedom Summer are available on PBS Learning Media. Video segments from the broadcast are supported by background essays and teaching tips to facilitate the use of media in the classroom.
What Was "Freedom Summer?"
This video from American Experience: “Freedom Summer” introduces the events of 1964, when over 700 students, black and white, came to Mississippi to help black citizens register to vote as well as combat other forms of discrimination, such as inadequate schools and lack of legal aid. Organized by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), civil rights activists hoped that the participation of well-educated, middle-class students, many from prestigious universities, would not only bring results but draw the attention of the nation to the miserable standard of living suffered by blacks in Mississippi.
Freedom Summer: Mississippi Blocks Voter Registration
Helping black citizens register to vote in the South was one of the main goals of the civil rights movement, as seen in this video from American Experience: “Freedom Summer.” Previous attempts to register had been met by intimidation and violent recriminations by the white establishment. In 1964, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) recruited student volunteers to go to Mississippi to join in the effort to restore this basic constitutional right to the black community.
Freedom Summer: The Catalyst
In 1963, black citizens of Mississippi had been disenfranchised for years. Earlier attempts to register to vote had been met with intimidation and reprisals. As more efforts were made to register voters, the state decided to withhold food and other aid from poor rural areas, which was especially devastating to the black community during a difficult winter. The arrival of popular comedian Dick Gregory with a plane full of supplies brought media attention and public scrutiny. The resulting publicity helped spark the idea for what would become known as "Freedom Summer."
Freedom Summer: Black Leaders, White Allies
Over 700 mostly white college students from the North answered the call for volunteers issued by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When they arrived for a week of orientation given by the mostly black SNCC organizers, racial and class tensions surfaced. In this video from Freedom Summer, learn how the two groups confronted the issues that divided them and resolved to work together.
Freedom Summer: Freedom Schools
In addition to helping black residents register to vote and establishing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, education was another important goal of Freedom Summer. Years of substandard and segregated schools and libraries had contributed to high rates of illiteracy (which, in turn, had led to disenfranchisement) and a lack of knowledge about black history and culture. Volunteers teaching in the Freedom Schools found that adults as well as children were eager to learn. The experience gave many black people newfound hope that things were about to change.
Freedom Summer: Civil Rights Workers Disappear
The disappearance of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner occurred on June 21, at the very beginning of what became known as “Freedom Summer,” as seen in this video from American Experience: 1964. Although their bodies were not found until August, the resulting media attention increased national awareness of the violence and injustices facing blacks every day in Mississippi and the white volunteers who had come to join in the fight.
My American Experience
Whether in politics or popular culture, civil liberty or civil rights, 1964 saw a lot of change. What event or set of events do you think had the biggest impact on the year, on American society, or on America as we know it today?