Freedom Summer was a building block, panel says

While the overt goal of Freedom Summer was to register black Mississippians to vote, a panel of civil rights scholars and veterans say that summer was a building block for the Civil Rights Movement.

Miami University concluded its extended weekend remembering the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the summer where 800 students ascended on the Western College of Women campus — which is now the Oxford campus’ western campus — to be trained and then sent to Mississippi.

The panel on “Understanding the Past, Building the Future” was led by Miami University assistant professor of history Nishani Frazier and featured a panel of Chude Allen, Gloria Wade Gayles, Dave Dennis, Jared Leighton, Keith Parker and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

“I came up in a community that was real where I had a lot of fathers and I have a lot of mothers. I came up a community where people looked out for each other,” said Dennis, a Freedom Rider and member of the Council of Federated Organizations in Mississippi.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sat in on the panel of civil rights scholars and veterans and recounted his personal experiences, albeit removed due to age from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

The senior senator from northern Ohio said the lesson people can take from Freedom Summer is to fight back by “making trouble, making good, necessary trouble,” whether it’s for civil rights for marriage or racial equality, or for voters’ rights.

“Your life expectancy is connected to your ZIP code. If you grew up in Oxford, Ohio, or Oxford, Mississippi, if you grow up in Over-the-Rhine — or what Over-the-Rhine used to be in Cincinnati five years ago — or in Indian Hill, a wealthy suburb, so much of your life’s plan is laid out for you in terms of the support you have, the opportunities you have. That really to me is what the Civil Rights Movement is all about — how we changed that script for so many people whose life plan is too scripted ahead of time by the zip code they were born in,” Brown said.

Parker, who holds undergraduate degrees in psychology and sociology and masters and doctorate in sociology, said the children of today needs to have an outlet where they can do good for a community, or a cause, and not be destructive.

“One of the failures is the fact that we are not engaging young people,” said Parker, who is involved in the organization of the National Civil Rights Conference in Mississippi. “For some reason we are not able to find ways to allow young people to come and express themselves as we were allowed … our churches, our schools, our civil and social organizations, and clubs provided us the opportunities to do these sorts of things. Where is that today? I think that is a reflection of the society and the time of which we are living,” he said.