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August 12, 2014

Why we still need Freedom Schools, 50 years later


Half a century ago, students and local organizers banded together to fight to end segregation and discrimination against African-Americans in the United States.

In what became known as Freedom Summer, over 1,000 mostly-white, college-age volunteers flocked to Mississippi and joined local African-American leaders to register voters, and protest injustice, but they also created Freedom Schools in an attempt to correct education inequalities for children of color.

The Freedom Schools addressed topics that typically did not appear in the curricula of then-segregated schools, including black history and literature.

But 50 years later, there are still inequalities in the American education system.

“We still have an inferior education system for millions of children of color, and particularly if they’re poor,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, which supports nearly 200 Freedom Schools around the country today. 

Some students rely on Freedom Schools for food, according to Abimbola George, who served as project manager for the Omega Freedom School at Malcolm X Elementary school in Washington, D.C.

“It’s really hard to see, because you realize that, if it wasn’t for Freedom Schools, some of these children won’t have breakfast or lunch,” George said.

Originally located in churches and community centers, some of today’s Freedom Schools can be found in homeless shelters and juvenile detention centers. A disproportionate number of students in detention centers are black and Latino men, who are incarcerated in higher numbers than most other groups in the country.

The Children’s Defense Fund plans to build Freedom Schools next summer at historically black college campuses and on one of the original school sites.

Warm up questions
  1. What did the Civil Rights Act accomplish?
  2. What was Freedom Summer?
Discussion questions
  1. Why is it important for history and literature classes to include many different perspectives?
  2. Many of the volunteers during Freedom Summer came from different backgrounds than the students they were serving. What sorts of challenges could this have created for both the volunteers and the students?
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