Miami University’s unique role in the Civil Rights movement: What you should know

Oxford and Miami University — specifically its Western Campus, which was once the Western College for Women— have a unique connection to the Civil Rights movement almost 60 years later.

Here are five things to know about Miami’s role in Freedom Summer of 1964:

1. What was Freedom Summer?

Civil rights organizations in 1964 — including the Congress on Racial Equality, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee — organized a voter registration drive for African-American residents in Mississippi. It was formally known as the Mississippi Summer Project but later was simply known as “Freedom Summer.”

The goal was to increase voter registration in Mississippi. In addition to African-American Mississippians, more than 1,000 out-of-state, and mostly white, volunteers were constantly harassed and abused by the state’s white population. The Ku Klux Klan, as well as police, state and local officials, were behind many of the violent attacks, including arson, assaults, false arrest and the murder of three Civil Rights activists — Michael Schwerner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20.

2. Training ground

Before heading to Mississippi, 800 volunteers trained from June 14-27, 1964 at the Western College for Women, which is now part of Miami University’s Western Campus, to help black citizens register to vote and to resist violence peacefully.

In 2000, officials dedicated an amphitheater on the Western Campus to the Freedom Summer training.

3. Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman

Schwerner, of Brooklyn, Chaney, of Mississippi, and Goodman, of New York, were found in Philadelphia, Miss., after they disappeared on June 21, 1964. According to a 1964 UPI wire report, the three were headed to Philadelphia, Miss., to investigate the burning of an African-American church.

Chaney was arrested at 4 p.m. on June 21, 1964, for speeding on the day the three disappeared, according to the UPI report. Schwerner and Goodman were also held for investigation.

The three men were released six hours later after Chaney posted a $20 bond.

4. Civil Rights panel on 50th anniversary

During the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Miami University held year-long series of events to remember the historical significance of that summer in Mississippi and the university’s role in the Civil Rights movement.

A panel in mid-October 2014 on "Understanding the Past, Building the Future" included Civil Rights activist Chude Allen and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

At the panel, Brown said the lesson of Freedom Summer is to fight back by “making trouble, making good, necessary trouble.”

“Your life expectancy is connected to your ZIP code,” Brown said in October 2014. “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.”

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