A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A FUTURE FREEDOM SUMMER
June 8, 2011 § 13 Comments
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?