In 1964, as SNCC coordinators trained volunteers for the Mississippi Freedom Summer project, three others, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman traveled to Philadelphia, MS to investigate a church burning.
In this episode, Cleveland Sellers recounts how he and seven other coordinators went in search of those three when they went missing. Sellers describes the extraordinary lengths their group went to, to avoid being spotted as they searched for their friends.
After several days of searching through woods and empty buildings in the dead of night, Sellers’ group was forced to abandon their search.
The bodies of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman were eventually found on August 4th, 1964.
After attending a Freedom School as a high school student in the summer of ’64, Charleana Cobb of Blue Mountain was inspired to become active in the civil rights movement. In this episode, she recalls promoting a speech being given at her church by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Cobb remembers the thrill of hearing Hamer speak that night and the shock of being told that the church had burned to the ground the next morning.
That December, college students from Oberlin, Ohio came to Blue Mountain to rebuild the church as a project called Carpenters for Christmas. Cobb recalls how members of the community reacted to the sacrifice these Oberlin College students made in giving up their Christmas holiday.
After attempting to register to vote, Fannie Lou Hamer was forced to leave the plantation where she had lived and worked for 18 years. In the episode, she explains how she became active in voter registration and the challenges they faced.
Prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mississippi required voters to pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax in order to vote. Hamer recalls how she passed the test and the first time she was able to vote.
Hamer went on to become a leader in the Civil Rights movement and her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 touched the nation. She reflects on her time in the spotlight and the friends she made along the way.
Fannie Lou Hamer passed away on March 14th, 1977.
In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper’s wife, living on a plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi. In this episode, she recalls the first time she tried to register to vote.
After leaving Indianola, the bus carrying Hamer’s group was pulled over by state and local law enforcement. She describes how they were forced to return to Indianola to face an assortment of trumped up charges.
Later that same day when Hamer returned home, the owner of the plantation confronted her about attempting to register. She describes how she was forced to leave her home of 18 years that very night for refusing to withdraw her registration.
The plantation owner's harsh treatment of Hamer led her to become an inspirational figure in the Civil Rights movement.
In 1964, Larry Rubin of Tacoma Park, Maryland came to Holly Springs to help black Mississippians register to vote. In this episode he explains how the state used literacy tests and intimidation to keep blacks from voting.
A key goal of Freedom Summer was to register enough Freedom Democratic Party voters to have their delegates seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Rubin recalls the drudgery of knocking on doors and the thrill of watching the convention drama unfold on TV.
Rubin also reflects on the violence and intimidation that black Mississippians endured in order to secure the right to vote.
In July of 1964, Sandra Adickes came to Hattiesburg to teach in a “Freedom School” as part of a civil rights campaign known as Freedom Summer. The Freedom Schools were intended to help black children overcome the disparity of education in Mississippi’s segregated school system.
In this episode, Adickes remembers her arrival and a 4th of July party sponsored by civil rights activist, Vernon Dahmer. She also describes a typical day in the Freedom School and how on the last day of Freedom School, the students decided to try and integrate the Hattiesburg Public Library.
In June of 1964, a campaign was launched to educate black Mississippians and register them to vote. In the episode, Gloria Clark, a school teacher from Massachusetts, recalls riding a bus to Memphis to prepare for her role in the campaign called Freedom Summer. Clark remembers being assigned to Holly Springs and her initial reaction to that assignment.
On June 21st, three civil rights activists James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman disappeared after being released from a Neshoba County Jail. Their bodies were found two months later. Clark explains how their disappearance affected her.
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer—a time when black Mississippians worked with northern students to confront Jim Crow and claim their rights as citizens. To commemorate this Freedom struggle, we are combing the collection to bring you a series of Mississippi Moments that explore Freedom Summer from a variety of perspectives: from organizers to volunteers to yes, even law enforcement.
In this episode, we hear from Charlie Capps. While Capps would later go on to a distinguished career as a Mississippi legislator, in spring of '64, he was the newly-elected sheriff of Bolivar County. As an elected sheriff in a county where few blacks could vote, he was the first line of defense of Mississippi’s segregated order. He recalls the fear, apprehension and resentment many in the white community felt as civil rights workers came to Mississippi to upend the Jim Crow system of racial segregation.
Reverend Harry Tartt grew up in North Gulfport in the 1920s. In this week's episode, he explains that at that time, the black community accepted segregation as a fact of life. Tartt recalls being made aware of lynching at a young age and how it was used to control the black community.
It was only after Tartt moved to Chicago to attend college that he began to see that there was a world beyond the Jim Crow system. He remembers feeling frustrated when he returned home with this new sense of awareness.
When Willie Cox of Pas Christian was discharged from the Army in February of ’67, he planned to live in the Washington DC area. In this episode, Cox explains how an unexpected job opportunity changed those plans.
The Civil Rights movement brought increased job opportunities for African-Americans. Cox recalls how two of his co-workers became the first black train engineers.
After three years as a switchman, Cox applied for a job as an engineer. He recalls how persistence and an engineer shortage led to the opportunity of a lifetime.
Willie Cox retired from railroading in 2002, after 35 years on the job.
In 1960 and ’63, Dr. Gilbert Mason, Sr. and a group of black citizens attempted to integrate Biloxi’s beaches by wading into the water together. Mason recalls how the final wade-in was delayed by the death of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Mason also recounts how the protestors were treated after being arrested.
Convicted of trespassing, the group appealed the decision in county court. In this extended version of the original broadcast episode, Mason remembers learning of the death of President Kennedy while waiting for the Judge’s ruling.
A movie based on Dr. Mason’s story is currently in production.
June 12th marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers. To mark the occasion, we have excerpts from the COH interview of Dr. Gilbert Mason, Sr. of Biloxi. Mason recalls Evers as a tireless leader who was always on the road going wherever he was needed. In this extended version of the broadcast episode, Mason relates in vivid detail the tensions resulting from acts of violence, threats and other forms of intimidation by those wishing to maintain the system of segregation.
The murder of Evers and other civil rights leaders only served to harden the resolve of those involved in the struggle for equality that "we shall overcome."
In 1961, J.C. Fairley was elected president of the Hattiesburg chapter of the NAACP. He remembers being warned of the danger of accepting such a high profile position by another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers.
John Frazier made a highly publicized attempt to become the first African-American to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi in March of 1964. Fairley recalls accompanying Frazier to the USM campus and the welcome they received. He also explains how they successfully integrated 90% of Forrest County’s hotels and restaurants in just one day.
June 12th marks the 50th Anniversary of the death Medgar Evers. Mississippi Moments salutes the brave Mississippians who stood up for what was right during that turbulent time. Please enjoy this extended version of the original broadcast episode.
In the mid-1960s, Mississippi began the process of desegregating its public schools. Winston Fairley of Gulfport recalls transferring to a previously all-white school in Hattiesburg after finishing the eighth grade.
As the son of a local civil rights leader, Fairley felt a sense of duty to represent his people and make his father proud. Even so, he remembers the move left him feeling isolated within his own community.