From Juneteenth to Freedom Summer
June 20, 2014 by Samantha Master
On June 19, 1865, Union troops descended into Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War was over and that the institution of slavery—which beget the American economy—had officially ended. In truth, slavery was abolished by the U.S. Constitution two-and-a-half years prior to that faithful day, but for many African-Americans, June 19th—Juneteenth it is colloquially known—represented the definitive end of an era that saw millions of Black people killed, maimed, enslaved and viciously separated from their lands, families and communities.
Ninety-nine years later, youth activists from across the country gathered in Mississippi to confront a still-thriving vestige of American slavery—racist terrorism aimed at keeping Blacks away from the ballot. The genius of leaders like Bob Moses and Ella Baker led these youth to engage in the nonviolent direct action, voter registration, and the establishment of Freedom Schools that defined the Mississippi Summer Project—Freedom Summer— which sought to challenge and defeat the racist practices that sought to limit Black people’s humanity and citizenship. On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman—three youth activists working with Freedom Summer—were arrested, ambushed, beaten and killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Their murder sparked national attention that further affirmed the need for racial justice and voting justice in Mississippi and the U.S. South more broadly. “These three young men represent three hundred thousand young men and women who dared, who had the courage to go to the lion’s den and try to scrub the lion’s teeth,” said Maya Angelou.
On July 2, 1964, the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. A year later, the Voting Rights Act was passed which required states with a history of voter disenfranchisement—like Mississippi—to receive permission from the Department of Justice to change voting law—no doubt a result of the actions of Chaney, Schwerner, Goodman and the hundreds of brilliant, courageous youth activists.
As a young, Black, queer woman who directly benefits from the legacy of Freedom Summer, I commit to working towards a justice for all people that is yet to be realized.
As HRC helps commemorates the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer, we remember the lives of the men and women who fought for a justice that they could only envision.
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