July 24, 2014  

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Freedom Summer Conference set for June 19-21

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Freedom Summer photo by Herbert Randall.
This image, captured by acclaimed civil rights movement photographer Herbert Randall, shows the Freedom Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Hattiesburg of Victoria Jackson Gray.

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Black Studies, in collaboration with the city of Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Historic Downtown Association and the Hattiesburg Convention
Commission will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer, when more than 1000 volunteers came to Mississippi from across the nation in 1964 to launch an unprecedented voter registration drive for African Americans.

Freedom Summer 1964–2014 is a conference organized by the Center for Black Studies which will honor the historical event. The conference is scheduled for June 19 – 21, 2014 and will be held at Southern Miss’ Thad Cochran Center.

“We are excited to partner with the City of Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Convention Commission and Historical Hattiesburg Downtown Association to commemorate Freedom Summer as a crucial moment in the history of civil rights struggles,” said Dr. Sherita L. Johnson, director of the Center for Black Studies at Southern Miss.

In the summer of 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) directed their attention to Mississippi and the state’s severe racism and segregation. COFO was a coalition of civil rights organizations that included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. Also known as the Mississippi Summer Project, Freedom Summer volunteers partnered with local individuals to challenge the state’s racist status through public protest and political campaigns.

Freedom schools were established in Hattiesburg and were attended by African Americans of all ages. Civic education and cultural history were taught to prepare children and adults alike to be more informed citizens. Because of a deficient public school education, the freedom schools also supplemented the learning of black children in the Hub City.

The communities and leaders from the Mobile-Bouie area and Palmer’s Crossing were central to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Their participation in the events of the Freedom Summer in Hattiesburg was invaluable to the entire movement.

Several pre-conference events are scheduled to begin in January 2014 to honor Freedom Summer.  Freedom Day March was the signal event for the movement in Hattiesburg.  On Jan. 22, 1964 local residents protested voter registrations practices outside of the Forrest County courthouse. On Jan. 22, 2014 students from Southern Miss will reenact this historical event in downtown Hattiesburg.

Freedom Summer Dialogues commemorating local events and honoring veterans of the movement are scheduled for the first Tuesday of each month at 11:30 a.m. from Feb. 2014 – May 2014 at the Hattiesburg Cultural Center. These forums are free and open to the public.

The final event in this celebration of Civil Rights is the Freedom Summer 1964 – 2014 conference, which will feature keynote addresses by veterans of Freedom Summer and civil rights movements. The conference will feature workshops about teaching the civil rights movement, which is designed for educators at the elementary, secondary and collegiate levels.  Other workshops for youth are also planned as part of the conference’s goal to replicate the design of freedom schools.

The conference will also include guided tours of the ‘64 Freedom Summer Trail, a driving tour of 15 marked historic sites of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement in Hattiesburg.  Also, Unity Day is a service-learning project to encourage youth participation in the conference events and will take place at various locations along the Trail.

“The College of Arts and Letters is pleased to support the Center for Black Studies and the activities that will celebrate the historical importance of Freedom Summer,” said Dean Steven R. Moser.

“To pay further homage, The Southern Quarterly will publish a special issue on Freedom Summer to commemorate the 50th anniversary,” added Moser.

The Southern Quarterly, in its 50th year, is a scholarly journal published in the College of Arts and Letters at Southern Miss that celebrates Southern life and culture.

“Though we are still working on the fine details of the conference, we are hopeful that June 19-21, 2014 will be circled on the calendars of educators and the general public alike. It truly is a time to honor the sacrifices of so many individuals who worked to ensure voting rights for African Americans in Mississippi in 1964,” said Johnson.

For more information, call the Center for Black Studies at 601.266.4068 or e-mail summer64hattiesburg@gmail.com.