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Freedom Summer Essay Sample

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Freedom Summer Essay Sample

Freedom Summer was a highly publicized campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote during the summer of 1964.

During the summer of 1964, thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, descended on Mississippi and other Southern states to try to end the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region. Although black men had won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise that right. White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynching. The inability to vote was only one of many problems blacks encountered in the racist society around them, but the civil-rights officials who decided to zero in on voter registration understood its crucial significance as well the white supremacists did.

The Freedom Summer campaign was organized by a coalition called the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, By mobilizing volunteer white college students from the North to join them, the coalition scored a major public relations coup as hundreds of reporters came to Mississippi from around the country to cover the voter-registration campaign.

Freedom Summer officials also established 30 “Freedom Schools” in towns throughout Mississippi to address the racial inequalities in Mississippi’s educational system. Mississippi’s black schools were invariably poorly funded.

Freedom Summer activists faced threats and harassment throughout the campaign, not only from white supremacist groups, but from local residents and police. Freedom School buildings and the volunteers’ homes were frequent targets; 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned.

But the summer’s most infamous act of violence was the murder of three young civil rights workers, a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner set out to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi, but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive before their badly decomposed bodies were discovered under a nearby dam six weeks later. Goodman and Schwerner had died from single gunshot wounds to the chest, and Chaney from a savage beating.

But despite the internal divisions, Freedom Summer left a positive legacy. The well-publicized voter registration drives brought national attention to the subject of black disenfranchisement, and this eventually led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, federal legislation that among other things outlawed the tactics Southern states had used to prevent blacks from voting. The Freedom Summer also instilled among African Americans a new consciousness and a new confidence in political action.

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