This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, and a Miami University theater professor is leading the way to tell the story in a 21st century way.
Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, associate professor of theater at Miami’s Oxford campus, was awarded a nearly $60,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in order to develop an interactive app that tells the involvement and role of the Western College for Women — which is now Miami University’s western campus — in Freedom Summer.
Freedom Summer was a project designed to get blacks in Mississippi registered to vote. Violence erupted during the 10-week project with four people dying and more than 1,000 people — which included out-of-state volunteers — being arrested.
The goal is to have a prototype of the app rolled out by Sept. 1 and launched for the public in time for Miami’s Freedom Summer National Conference scheduled from Oct. 12-14.
Exactly how the game will work — including the objective of the game and its rules — will be developed, but the project will be location-based where people can use their iPhones or iPads to find out the role that Western College played in the civil rights efforts in Mississippi. Once the game is launched, Armstrong said they’ll work to get a grant to make it available for Android devices, and they’ll also work to make a web-based game.
“A lot of the way kids communicate with each other is through technologies,” said Armstrong.
And this is the way to keep telling the story of the Western College’s involvement in the civil rights era, she said.
“It’s the way in which we’re incorporating the devices into our everyday interactions,” Armstrong said
More than 800 volunteers trained in 1964 on the Western College campus before heading to Mississippi for what was initially known as the Mississippi Summer Project. It was later referenced as Freedom Summer, which volunteers worked to help get African-American Mississippi residents registered to vote.
The Freedom Summer project was organized by the Council of Federated Organizations, which included major civil rights organization such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But Freedom Summer was also opposed by many of the Mississippi’s white residents, including local government officials, police, and groups like the Klu Klux Klan and White Citizens’ Council.
Armstrong is being assisted in this project with Elias Tzoc, a digital initiatives librarian in the Center for Digital Scholarship for University Libraries, and Bob De Schutter, a C. Michael Armstrong Assistant Professor. Tzoc will, among other things, provide the back end development technical support, and De Schutter will help design the game.
De Schutter said a successful game will have a balance of motivation and interest in the game with the educational aspect. He said, historically, educational games tend to be boring.
“It’s about finding that perfect balance,” he said.
The process to find that balance will begin this week when the high school and college students will help generate ideas for the game and where designers can find out where the interest lies within their target audience.
Armstrong said consultants, including from Talawanda High School, the National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center in Cincinnati, and from Mississippi State Civil Rights Museum, will help out in the process of developing the game over the next two to three months.