About an hour before the Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Commemoration on Friday at Miami University’s Western Campus, overcast clouds poured rain, but skies became quiet and serene for the event, just as 1964 attendees of Freedom Summer were taught to remain peaceful amidst a storm.
From June 14-27 in 1964, 800 volunteers were trained to help black citizens register to vote and to peacefully resist violence before traveling to Mississippi. Three of these volunteers — Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman — were killed in Mississippi shortly after leaving training in Oxford.
Those three men were commemorated Friday, as were the individuals who trained on Western Campus and across the nation to campaign for the civil rights of all Americans.
During the commemoration, held in Western Campus’s Kumler Chapel, Miami University President David Hodge spoke about the importance of the event, and those who participated in Freedom Summer. Other speakers included Ohio representatives Bill Beagle and Tim Derickson, Miami University board of trustees chair Sharon Mitchell, and Western College Alumnae Association president Jocelyn Woodson-Reed.
‘Today, we commemorate Freedom Summer, because it is important that we honor those before us who gave us the opportunities we have today through their efforts and their sacrifice,” Hodge said.
Carl Westmoreland was the event’s keynote speaker. Westmoreland is the senior adviser and co-founder of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
“The forum in which we now work and will work forever is one of a global community,” Westmoreland said. “And if democracy fails, it will be because we failed.”
Westmoreland’s speech was followed by a vocal performance by international performer Greta Pope, who graduated from Western College in 1974.
After the commemoration ceremony, three trees at the Freedom Summer Memorial on Western Campus were dedicated to Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. A reception took place on the lawn as well, where photographs, articles, and documents related to Freedom Summer were displayed.
“(The memorial) is so appropriate for what went on here,” said Miami University alumni Bill Keng, who graduated in 1964. “I was so powerfully moved seeing it the first time. Hopefully it has touched a lot of people; it’s a way to remember.”
“This was a place of incredible values, and Freedom Summer epitomized what we were all about as a women’s college,” 1964 Western College graduate Patricia Spokes said.
Westmoreland said it is his hope that Freedom Summer will be a time that continues to be honored.
“Fifty years from now … I hope this room will be filled again with more white hair, and handsome faces, with more open ears, and that the truth of the sacrifice made by the hundreds of people who participated in that event and the millions of people who made the army that brought America close as it has ever been to its promise will be celebrated,” Westmoreland said.