Freedom Summer: A bridge to the present

Julian Bond co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which helped organize Freedom Summer. His keynote presentation opened "Freedom Dreams/Freedom Now" at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Wednesday. [Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison]

Julian Bond co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which helped organize Freedom Summer. His keynote presentation opened "Freedom Dreams/Freedom Now" at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Wednesday. [Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison]

The summer of 1964 challenged Jim Crow segregation and a complacent America that had done little or nothing to ensure democracy for its black citizens. Nearly 1,000 young volunteers swept into Mississippi to register African-American voters. Even in the South, the state was notorious for its racist brutality toward blacks and white integrationists. Early that summer, white supremacists kidnapped and murdered three civil rights workers. By the end of that momentous summer, officials had found the remains of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

This June, marks the 50th anniversary of what is known as Freedom Summer.

On Wednesday, civil rights leader Julian Bond, a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which helped organize Freedom Summer, kicked off “Freedom Dreams/Freedom Now,” a three-day conference hosted by the Social Justice Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago and several other organizations, including the Chicago Freedom School, Project NIA and the Black Youth Project. Conference registration is closed, but you can watch the keynote speeches and plenaries below. Check the conference schedule for times.

Bringing together soldiers of the summer of ’64 and academics and activists today, the national conference builds a bridge between past and present struggles for equality and explores the question, “What is the meaning of freedom?” in the 21st Century.

Chicago played a storied role in Freedom Summer, sending people and money to Mississippi. But the struggle for freedom Down South also transformed the social justice movements in Chicago, as local blacks began to connect economic oppression in the North and racial oppression in the South. An archive at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature at the City of Chicago’s Carter G. Woodson Regional Library documents the ties between Chicago and the freedom movement in the South. It’s local history that we plan to explore further in The Chicago Reporter.

Look for extended coverage of Chicago’s involvement in the 1964 Freedom Summer in the next issue of the Reporter.

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