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Review of Faces of Freedom Summer


Published by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in cooperation with the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. LXIII, No. 3 (Fall 2001), pp. 252-254.

Faces of Freedom Summer. Photographs by Herbert Randall; text by Bobs M. Tusa. Tuscaloosa and London, England: University of Alabama Press, 2001. ix + 60 pages; 102 black-and-white photographs. Notes, bibliography, and index. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8173-1056-8.

Reviewed for The Journal of Mississippi History by Dr. Pearl Amelia McHaney, Assistant Professor of English, Georgia State University.

Nearly two generations after Freedom Summer 1964, one can see the results of the significant strides that have been taken toward a nation of civil equality, but all of us should remember the steps that brought the nation this far. Randall and Tusa hold up a mirror for Americans to see themselves in the guise of humanity in the faces of Freedom Summer 1964 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Then and there, leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) under the umbrella of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) organized volunteers black and white from every region of the United States and from a few foreign countries to work with hundreds of local volunteer-activists.

These groups had four major programs: Freedom Schools for children and adults, Community Centers, voter registration, and special projects that included research and documentation of injustices as well as the traveling Free Southern Theater and folk singers who inlcuded "Folksy" Joe Harrison, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins and Julius Lester.

Tusa's introduction tells a documented and moving human story of the Hattiesburg Summer of Freedom in perfect sync with Randall's photographs of the participants. In the Freedom Schools, the students read Ebony magazine and novels by James Baldwin and Richard Wright in new paperbacks instead of reding from discarded white-school textbooks.

Adults increased their literacy by studying the Constitution and voter registration forms and by listening to recordngs of African American poets. Freedom School student at St. John United Methodist Church wrote a "Declaration of Independence" petitioning for the "God-given rights" guaranteed by the federal constitution but denied by Mississippi government practices. The students were ones who had "lived in Mississippi all their lives" and thus had "been deprived of decent education ... beendenied the right to question" (21).

The Community Centers housed Freedom Summer libraries of donated books, exhibited children's art and writing, held gatherings for health, literacy, and political programs. These activities fed directly into the FreedomSummer's primary objective: to end the disenfranchisement of AfricanAmericans in the South. They worked toward this goal through voter registration and the organization of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that sought seats for Hattiesburg residents J.C. Fairley, Peggy Jean Connor, and Victoria Jackson Gray at the Democratic nominating convention in fall 1964.

In late 1963 or early 1964, Herbert Randall, a northern African American/Native American, award-winning photographer, chanced to learn of the planning for Freedom Summer and was invited by SNCC field secretary Sandy Leigh to document the project in Hattiesburg. From the Ohio summer orientation sessions to Mississippi, Randall traveled during daylight hours under a blanket in a car with white volunteers, for Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman had disappeared near Philadelphia, Mississippi, a week earlier. Randall certainly must have had his fears confirmed when the empty car in which he had arrived was shot at by a white man on the first morning in Hattiesburg.

Randall donated his 1,759 negatives to the University of Southern Mississippi Archives in 1998; nearly half were printed. From these, 102 images, first shown in 1999 in an exhibit that opened during the thirty-fifth anniversary of Freedom Summer at a USM symposium, are now preserved in Faces of Freedom Summer. In every photograph are faces -- beaten, bloodied, inquisitive, frightened, black, white, working, singing, eager, honest -- all showing the human efforts to assist in the awakening consciousness of liberty.

Free of government or other agendas, Randall's photographs are stories open and waiting for individual reading. What numerous participants of the1960s civil rights movement and historians have told in so many words (relative manuscript collections archived at USM, books, theses, and articles are listed in Tusa's bibliography), Randall's photographs prove in the faces of the people themselves.

Individually, each image shows people, places, ideals. Collectively, the photographs of Faces of Freedom Summer remind us that while we are not near the finish of our civil battles for the rights of each human, neither can we afford to forget the courageous steps taken nearly four decades ago.

The 1990s produced numerous volumes of WPA and Farm Security Administration photographs taken in the Southern states; one hopes that Faces of Freedom Summer will encourage the unearthing of Freedom Summer projects in other southern cities and states to show us more individuals in this mammoth on-going effort.

Created by: Bobs M. Tusa

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Revised: August 27, 2003