The Summer That Will Always Be Remembered …

At 1:00 a.m. this morning, the time I would normally be responding to comments, catching up on the day’s news, and trying to find a focal point for my afternoon post, I began watching a documentary.  Our friend Keith recommended this one a while back, and I had watched only the first few minutes at that time, but kept it pinned to my taskbar so that I wouldn’t forget about it.  I thought, at 1:00 this morning, that I would watch 15-20 minutes of this nearly two-hour program, then get busy on comments and such.  But before long, I had watched 50 minutes, mesmerized, sometimes with tears in my eyes.  I paused for a bathroom break and to make myself a piece of toast to settle the acid in my stomach, then returned to the video.  At 3:00 a.m., the documentary was done, the toast eaten, and a lump in my throat the size of … Mississippi.

The documentary?  Freedom Summer.  Mississippi 1964.  The year that 1,000 college students from all over the United States traveled to Mississippi in an attempt to help Black people register to vote, to gain a measure of control over their own lives.

In 1964, less than 7% of Mississippi’s African Americans were registered to vote, compared to between 50 and 70% in other southern states. In many rural counties, African Americans made up the majority of the population and the segregationist white establishment was prepared to use any means necessary to keep them away from the polls and out of elected office.

For years, local civil rights workers had tried unsuccessfully to increase voter registration amongst African Americans. Those who wished to vote had to face the local registrar, an all-powerful white functionary who would often publish their names in the paper and pass the word on to their employers and bankers. And if loss of jobs and the threat of violence wasn’t enough to dissuade them, the complex and arcane testing policies were certain to keep them off the rolls.

In 1964, a new plan was hatched by Bob Moses, a local secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. For ten weeks, white students from the North would join activists on the ground for a massive effort that would do what had been impossible so far: force the media and the country to take notice of the shocking violence and massive injustice taking place in Mississippi.

This was the summer that three of those students, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were brutally killed in a plot hatched by County Sheriff Lawrence A. Rainey and eight other white male community ‘leaders’, their bodies buried deep in an old farm pond.

This was the summer that almost no Blacks were allowed to register to vote, for few could pass the “literacy tests” required of Black people in order to vote.  Even attempting to register could get them fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes.

I strongly urge you to take the two hours to watch this video.  The widow of Michael Schwerner has a role, as does Bob Moses, a civil rights activist who took part in Freedom Summer, was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and who died just over a week ago at the age of 86.  Here is a link, for any who are interested in this very important piece of U.S. history.

Fifty-six years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Largely because of that, I have always had a great deal of respect for former President Lyndon B. Johnson, but frankly after watching this video, the only word I could think of to define him was ‘bastard’.

This documentary … people risking their lives to ensure that ALL people have a right to vote, to have a voice in the governing of this country … is even more meaningful today when 42 of the states in this nation are doing their level best to once again take the right to vote away from Black people, Hispanics, the elderly, college students and poor people.  Are we headed back to the days of Jim Crow?  Will we find ourselves in just a few short years sending busloads of young people to Florida, Alabama, and again, Mississippi, to help in the fight to ensure people from all walks of life and of all ethnicities can do something so simple, so basic, as to vote?  Think about that one for a minute … and please do watch the documentary … you won’t regret the time spent.

41 thoughts on “The Summer That Will Always Be Remembered …

  1. Here is a link, for any who are interested in this very important piece of U.S. history.

    We’re sorry, but this video is not available.

    I’ve searched for this ‘Freedom Summer’ documentary. Can’t find it. I did find a video on YouTube called ‘FULL DOCUMENTARY – 1964: The Fight for a Right | MPB’ — but I don’t think it’s the same as the one you’re talking about, and I hesitate to offer the link to it here as I wouldn’t want anyone to watch it (I haven’t) to be fooled into thinking it is the same, if it’s not. If there’s a deliberate move by some to censure this documentary, I wouldn’t put it past them to rewrite history.

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  2. That documentary is shown on Canadian TV, about every five years or so since it was msde. But with all the TV stations and satellite and such, it now gets lost in the shuffle. It does not matter how often I see it, it still brings tears to my eyes.

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  3. Pingback: The Summer That Will Always Be Remembered … by Jill Dennison – DEEZ – News about Art, Books & more

  4. Thank you for sharing!!.. I remember those times as I were stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC at the time (sent to Vietnam end of 1965)… again, with the lack of technology and communications one did not hear much about it unless one was in the area or involved in some manner, and many chose not to get involved if it did not affect them… 🙂
    Today’s technology and knowledge is unearthing reality and shattering the illusion created by many and at the same time enabling many to make their voices heard, especially in an environment where there are those in denial.. it may take time but change is coming in spite of the efforts of many to prevent it… “one can run but one cannot hide”.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May the road rise to meet you
    May the wind be always at your back
    May the sun shine warm upon your face
    The rains fall soft upon your fields
    May green be the grass you walk on
    May blue be the skies above you
    May pure be the joys that surround you
    May true be the hearts that love you.
    (Irish Saying)

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    • Thank YOU for sharing your recollections, Dutch! Yes, change is coming and I think it is fear of that change that is driving some to follow the right-wing populist movement, to act on their racist and bigoted ideas, to try to stop the winds of change. Many thanks for the Irish Saying, my friend … it always brings a smile.

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  5. It surprises us, that, those who are of a different race had been, mistreated, and not allowed the rights to exercise their rights to vote, to have an, opinion of their, own, that this had happened, not too far ago, and, looking back, we had, come, very far from before, but, there’s, still, a long, long way, until, we are all, ” created equal”, like the U.S. Constitution stated…

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    • Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this happened just a short time ago, yet we have forgotten the lessons we learned that summer, and today are headed right back down that path with the new voting suppression laws being proposed and passed in so many states. Yes, we have a long, long way to go and most days it seems as if we are headed in the wrong direction. Sigh.

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    • This won’t be a popular statement, but when the Constitution was written black males were not “men.” Your founnding fathers were talking about white men who believed in the Abrahamic God. The way they worded the document turned out to be genius, but for them non-whites were slaves, savages, or indentured workers. This is something that most Americans conveniently ignore nowadays.

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    • Well, in this case, they weren’t “invited” per se, but still, this was their home … the whites in Mississippi would have been happy to evict all Blacks from their homes, but then who would have picked their cotton and worked their fields? Sigh. So much greed and bigotry in this world.

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  6. Thanks for sharing that documentary. The Freedom Summer is history that needs to be told.

    Also, do my eyes deceive me, or is that a young John Lewis in the photo at the top? I just read his book titled Walking With the Wind, a book I cannot recommend enough.

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    • My pleasure, and you are SO right about that. This and many other episodes are the part of our history that some would like to sweep under the rug, or whitewash, and to do so would be to ensure that we repeat our mistakes. As it happens, it seems that today we are on the path to repeating them. Sigh.

      I had not noticed, but now that I take a closer look, YES, I believe that is the young John Lewis and that may well be the Edmund Pettis Bridge in the background! I have read one book by him, but not that one … I shall check it out … thanks!

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        • A funny thing happened on the way to the forum … er, on the way to Amazon. When I typed in the name of the book, and saw the cover, a light bulb 💡 came on and I realized that I have that upstairs on my TBR bookshelf! And so, as soon as I finish “The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler” by William Shirer, that will be my next read!

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  7. Thanks for the shout out. The Freedom Summer is a very troubling chapter in a long troubling book. The young adults had high hopes that were beaten back by aggressive Jim Crow actions. And, three were murdered. Keith

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    • Were it not for your recommendation, I wouldn’t have even known this excellent documentary existed! I am so glad I finally got around to watching it … well worth the time spent. It was a tragic summer, and yet some good came out of it. I’m depressed, though, to see us turning around mid-stream and heading right back where we came from.

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  8. If I remember rightly the Sheriff and his compadres got nominal sentences for killing 3 innocent youths for being concerned about their fellow man. Of course we were very much in the home of he KKK, much as today I think and they’ll be some of the very few willing to wear a mask. Cowards without the courage of their convictions.
    Having seen Mississippi Burning and a made for TV film Murder in Mississippi I’m not sure I’ve the stomach for the documentary but I know the boys won’t be forgotten and hope it will make for a greater push for the For the People Act.
    Cwtch

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    • Sadly, Sheriff Rainey was acquitted, although six others were convicted in 1965. Rainey was indicted, however, and as a result, his wife divorced him and he was not re-elected, ending up spending the remainder of his life as an auto mechanic. Some 40 years after the murders, in 2005, another perpetrator, Edgar Ray Killen, was convicted on three counts of manslaughter, for it was proven that he had a heavy hands in the deaths of the three. He was given 4 consecutive life sentences and was 80 years old at the time. He died in 2018.

      Indeed, “Mississippi Burning” is a powerful movie … I’ve seen it twice. You would learn little else from this documentary, but what I found worthwhile was the interviews with some of the people who were there that summer, as well as the widow of Schwerner. Stay tuned for my a.m. post … a moving OpEd from Merrick Garland about how Congress must pass For the People.

      Cwtch

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