Fifty years ago this week, about 800 people came to the Western College for Women — now Miami University’s Western Campus — to receive training to assist in the civil rights initiative the Mississippi Freedom Project.
They learned not only how to register blacks to vote, but also how to peacefully resist violence that they knew they would encounter in the south.
Shortly after leaving Oxford in mid-June, three of those volunteers — James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman — were murdered in Mississippi, sending shock waves nationwide and sparking additional support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Miami University is hosting a series of events to mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, including a commemoration at 3 p.m. June 20 on Western Campus featuring Carl Westmoreland, senior adviser at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center; and Greta Pope, singer and Western College for Women alumnus.
The tributes are not confined only to this summer. The university has also been hosting nearly daily Freedom Summer tours, which take visitors around the sites of the former Western College.
Myka Lipscomb, of Middletown, is a Miami junior majoring in theatre and is one of several students who are volunteering to share the story of Freedom Summer as role-playing tour guides in the Walk With Me interactive tour. The tour uses student volunteers to portray the leaders of the 1964 training and the people receiving the training.
“I get chills walking through here knowing that the nonviolent training took place here,” Lipscomb said.
During the Walk With Me interactive tour, participants retrace the steps of the hundreds who volunteered to get a taste of both the trepidation and the bravery many likely felt at the time.
All the volunteers had their pictures taken at Western College as a form of identification in case something happened to them in Mississippi.
Jayvon Howard, of Cleveland, portrays one of the volunteers during Walk With Me. As his photo is taken, he says, “Smile, or look noble or what? You know, it seems to me that the most final, horrible thing in the world is posing for your own obituary photograph.”