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Released June 8, 2004

Second installment highlights activist efforts of 'local people'

HATTIESBURG -- Civil rights historian Dr. John Dittmer will examine the crucial role ordinary citizens played during the Freedom Summer movement at the second and final installment of the Fairchild Lecture Series on June 24.

The series "Courage to Act: Freedom Summer in Mississippi" will conclude at St. Paul Methodist Church with a lecture by Dittmer, author of "Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi." The presentation begins at 4 p.m., followed by a reception and roundtable discussion featuring former activists and audience members.

"Dr. Dittmer is the author of one of the best books ever written on the Civil Rights movement," said Dr. Charles Bolton, chair of the Department of History at Southern Miss. "His work fits what we're trying to accomplish with this series, which is to shine the light on all the local people who made the Freedom Summer movement possible."

Dittmer, a professor at Tougaloo College in the '60s and '70s, joined the DePauw University (Indiana) faculty in 1985. His book, "Local People," was published in 1994 and received the prestigious Herbert G. Gutman Award, the Lillian Smith Book Award, the McLemore Prize from the Mississippi Historical Society and the Bancroft Prize. The "New York Times" named Dittmer's book one of its "Notable Books of 1994."

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond called "Local People" the "definitive analytical history of the black freedom movement in the nation's most recalcitrant state." Dittmer was the recipient of the 1999 Exemplary Teaching Award from the General Board of Higher Education Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Activists Anthony Harris, Peggy Jean Connor and Curtis Muhammed, formerly known as Curtis Hayes, will also participate. The "Courage to Act" series is sponsored by The University of Southern Mississippi's Departments of History and Speech Communication, the Fairchild Lecture Fund, the city of Hattiesburg and Forrest County, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Hattiesburg branch of the NAACP, the Hattiesburg Housing Authority, and Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

The "Courage to Act" series coincides with the 40th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was the culmination of a defiant voter registration drive launched by black citizens in Hattiesburg in January of 1964. Thousands of protestors marched in front of the Forrest County Courthouse on Jan. 22, 1964, known as "Freedom Day," with pastors and civil rights activists from around the nation, lobbying for black voting rights.

By June of the same year, student volunteers from all over America descended on Hattiesburg, where they engaged in voter canvassing in the evenings and ran Freedom Schools during the day. At the height of the movement, about 90 students--many of whom were white--were staying in the homes of Hattiesburg's black citizens and working with local activists in these programs. With almost 700 students enrolled, Hattiesburg's Freedom School was the largest of its kind in the state.

Dr. Richard Conville, professor of speech communication at Southern Miss, said the first installment of the "Courage to Act" series in January was a success. About 250 people, including many high school students, turned out to hear lectures and discussions from civil rights scholars and activists.

Conville said the roundtable discussions "weren't always sweet." "There were a couple of people who gave contradictory stories of how things happened," he said.

These conflicting viewpoints are important for people to hear, added Bolton, especially students. "There were many different voices during the movement," Bolton said. "Society wasn't as homogenous back then as people tend to think."

For more information about the "Courage to Act: Freedom Summer in Mississippi" series, contact Dr. Charles Bolton at (601) 266-4575 or Dr. Richard Conville at (601) 266-4272.


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June 11, 2004 4:07 PM