Friday, August 22, 2014

Freedom Summer; the 1964 struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Holiday House, 2014

“I am determined to become a first class citizen … I am determined to get every Negro in the State of Mississippi registered (Fannie Lou Hamer, p 1).

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of several biographies and books on the Holocaust,  has written a dramatic account of the efforts of Civil Rights organizations and volunteers, mostly college age students, who worked together during the summer of 1964 to educate African Americans in Mississippi about their voting rights. While greeted warmly by African Americans, who also opened their homes to the young students, volunteers worked in an intense and dangerous environment. Prior to arriving in Mississippi, volunteers, who hailed from all across the country,  received one week training in how to behave and dress so as to avoid physical harm. They learned : “no one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night ..” (pp. 6-7). Volunteers were advised to sleep at the back of the house and listen for sudden car acceleration as that might signal a bombing. Contrary to what they had been taught in the North, Southern police were not their friends.

Despite the never ending climate of fear and the murder of three of the workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner), students and community members continued their heroic efforts to establish Freedom Schools and register voters. The Freedom Schools were enormously successful: with enrollment of over 2000 adults and children. Voter registration, however,  proved to be much more challenging due to African Americans fears of physical violence and obstacles such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed to prevent them from voting. However, these efforts led to President Johnson’s 1965 Civil Rights Act and, by 1966, registered African American voters soared from 6.4% to almost 60% (p. 97).

Rubin’s compelling and gripping account includes primary sources: interviews with surviving volunteers and community members, reproductions of period photos, FBI posters,  newspaper articles and other documents. End material includes a bibliography,  timeline, recommended web sites, and appendices of original documents.  The book also includes illustrations by Tracy Sugarman, an American artist who illustrated important historical events. At 41, he was the oldest volunteer and shadowed the volunteers to chronicle their work in art (see PBS’s “Freedom Summer” web pages for more information on the documentary and Sugarman and his illustrations). Highly recommended for middle graders through high school, as a readable narrative as well as a compelling way for teachers and librarians to meet Common Core standards in how researchers use primary sources to bring historical events to life. In an interview with Holiday House (see below), Rubin expresses her hope that this book will inspire students to seek out their communities' stories.

Visit Holiday House for links to educators’ guide, transcripts of the author’s interviews, video interview with author, and more.

This review was originally published at Good Reads with Ronna.

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