A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A FUTURE FREEDOM SUMMER

June 8, 2011 § 13 Comments

I posted here about the events of 1964 Freedom Summer in Meridian.  Mark Levy of New York, director of Meridian’s Freedom School that summer, sent a reply that I posted here.

Mississippi’s history, and by extension that of Meridian, is intertwined inextricably with issues arising out of relations between the races.  The major historical forces that shaped much of the modern south, including the culture of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Populism and the Revolt of the Rednecks, Vardaman and Bilbo, sharecropping and peonage, the great emigration north, Jim Crow, the Klan and lynching, the Civil Rights Movement, the southern strategy, all had race at their root.  It is essential that Mississippians of all races know and understand how these forces evolved and continue to influence us if we hope to know and understand how we can grow beyond them and explore how best to make room for each other in our common life.  The only way to do this is to do it purposefully, with reflection and care, preserving the history so that we will not be doomed to relive its mistakes.

As Mark pointed out in his response, and Richelle Putnam in her comment, the voices of the civil rights era are aging.  Already many of the most significant figures of the Civil Rights Movement have passed.  Who will carry their story and its understanding forward to the leaders of the future?

The year 2014 will be the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer.  Meridian was at the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement in those blastfurnace-hot months.  What better opportunity than the fiftieth anniversary will we have to focus reflection and thoughtful attention on the epochal events of the summer of 1964 as a catalyst for further discourse?

Taking some of Mark Levy’s thoughts as a springboard, I came up with the following modest proposal for an observance of that silver anniversary.  It’s merely a starting point for discussion, and I am sure that there’s much more that can be done.  I propose that between now and the summer of 2014, we do the following:

  • Acquire the Fielder & Brooks building on Fifth Street as the site of a Civil Rights in Meridian interpretive center and museum.  Part of the building could be devoted to the history of black entrepreneurship in Meridian, and specifically in the Fifth Street area.  It could include a re-creation of the old Fielder & Brooks pharmacy.  Upstairs, the COFO Headquarters and Community Center would be re-created, with displays of materials and memorabilia devoted to Freedom Summer and the COFO workers.  Other displays would tell the story of Meridian’s civil rights leaders and accomplishments.  If that building proves to be unavailable, the project could go forward at another site, but a location in the Fifth St. area would serve beneficially as an anchor in an area where so many buildings have been lost.
  • Establish a trail of sites with importance to civil rights in Meridian and make a map available in the interpretive center.
  • Plan an observance of Freedom Summer in 2014, and invite all of the surviving Meridian COFO and other workers who devoted that summer to change.  The event would include reminiscences, lectures, social events, and even worship and singing.  If enough money were available, a noted speaker could keynote and draw attention to the event.  Use the event to promote racial reconciliation and promote discussions about how to establish common ground.  Enlist the schools and colleges to focus course work on these issues in the months leading up to that summer.
  • Establish an organization to gather, preserve, display and promote the materials, artifacts, oral histories and other memorabilia of the Civil Rights Movement in Meridian.  Perhaps one day Meridian could become the site of a Civil Rights Archive.

These are ideas that have been percolating in my head since I read Mark’s response.  I am sure there are many other worthwhile approaches to this, but we have the advantage of time to work toward the goal.  If you have other ideas to share, please feel free to comment.  I will definitely be in touch with those of you who have expressed an interest, as well as others.

This is definitely something I am willing to work to attain.  Will you work with me?

Fielder & Brooks Bldg. looking west across 25th Ave. with 5th St. on the right

View across 25th Ave. from in front of the E.F. Young Hotel

From across 5th St. looking southeast. The door on the far right is 2505 1/2

Holbrook Benevolent Association monument on 5th St., typical of sites for an historical trail

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§ 13 Responses to A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A FUTURE FREEDOM SUMMER

  • […] sites. Many Civil Rights Movement veterans and Meridian citizens, such as Gail Falk, Mark Levy, and Judge Larry Primeaux, appalled at the disinvestment plaguing most of downtown Meridian, began calling for the […]

  • How have things progressed? I’m still interested in helping make the anniversary a memorable one — though from afar (Minnesota).

    • Larry says:

      The effort to date has been devoted to securing funding to do some seriously expensive structural repairs to the building, which I do not see happening by July, 2014. Plans are being made for state-wide commemorations of Freedom Summer in 2014, with the Freedom School commemoration here in Meridian. I am sure as plans are made they will be publicized. You can like The Freedom 64 Project on Facebook.

  • […] is a group in Meridian that has secured ownership of the old Fielder & Brooks drug store, which housed the COFO headquarters. They plan to restore it and create an educational center […]

  • Len Gandy says:

    Wow, I lived across the street from this building from my first memories in life ( early 1960s) until 1970. My first job ever as a child was sweeping and mopping the floors of Fielder & Brooks’ Pharmacy. I was a friend of Micky and James. I was 9 years old when they were killed. My family’s business was across the street from the Cofo Center, so I was blessed to go there daily. My aunt, Rosanna Calmese Russell owned Calmese Beauty College, my mother, Rosie Lee Gandy managed Calmese’s Beauty Salon and my grandmother, Effie Lee Lucas ran Calmese’s Grill. I can remember everything as if it was yesterday!

    • Larry says:

      Thanks for the comment. There are some significant developments ongoing toward preserving the site.

      I well remember the Calmese businesses.

      • Larry,
        Although I no longer live in Meridian, I would be pleased to be a part of the steps you propose in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Preserving history as a vehicle, not only for avoiding repetition of past mistakes, but also for exploring our shared humanity as we grapple with prejudice.
        In researching my historical novel THE FOG MACHINE, I’ve been privileged to interact with movement figures such as Mississippians Ben Chaney, Reverend Ed King, and Faye Inge. My story spans 1954 to 2002 and is set in fictional Poplar Springs, Mississippi and Chicago; however, I devote a chapter to Freedom Summer in Meridian, including Freedom School in the Meridian Baptist Seminary, the state freedom school convention, MFDP, and even Pete Seeger.
        Please keep me in the loop.
        Susan

      • Larry says:

        Susan,

        There is a group working on grants for this very thing. I have been patiently waiting on the sidelines while they get their ducks in a row. Several of the principals view this site occasionally, so I am sure they will see your name. When things get moving, I will keep you and the others who have responded here in mind.

        In the meantime, your book sounds intriguing. I’ll look forward to seeing it in print.

  • I would love to be included as well and will do whatever I can to make this happen.

  • Bill Scaggs says:

    Larry…

    I’m in. It’s not only past time, its doable. Lots of interested help available in and well beyond Meridian. Thanks for your leadership!

    Bill Scaggs

  • bill may says:

    Count me in Judge…. great ideas.

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