Mississippi Summer of 1964: A Santa Clara County judge recalls voting rights struggle

“Mississippi Summer of 1964: A Santa Clara County judge recalls voting rights struggle,” San Jose Mercury News, by Len Edwards, June 19, 2014.

july 2014 edwardsIn the summer of 1964, Len Edwards, then a law student at the University of Chicago, traveled to Mississippi to participate in voter registration efforts in the Delta area. He lived in Ruleville next door to the famous organizer Fannie Lou Hamer, with whom he worked closely. Edwards spent the summer driving voters to register at the county courthouse, and also in a publicity campaign for civil rights across the state, which he undertook jointly with his father, Congressman Edwards. In this column, he discusses the organizing work of 1964, as well as current social and political issues related to civil rights.

Judge Edwards is retired from Santa Clara County Superior Court and was interviewed for the Mississippi Freedom Project in June 2014. His interview is archived as MFP 180 Leonard Edwards 6-27-2014.

For more information about the Mississippi Freedom Project and 2014 research trip:

I worked closely with Mrs. Hamer. She was the most inspirational person I have ever met. Whether talking on her front steps or giving her famous televised speech at the Democratic Convention, Mrs. Hamer spoke from her heart about the wrongs of segregation, and how Americans must live up to the country’s laws and ideals.

-Len Edwards

 

Edited volume of Mississippi Freedom Project interviews, “I Never Will Forget,” now online

Read and share the volume, now available for reunion celebrations of Freedom Summer 2014. Edited by MFP Coordinator Sarah Blanc.

Mississippi Freedom Project Interviews Are Now Available Online at UF Digital Collections!

Oral history interviews in the Mississippi Freedom Project archive are being processed through a mini-grant from George A. Smathers Libraries. (Image from CRMVet.org.)

Mississippi Freedom Project Interviews to be Available on UFDC for MLK Celebration, Freedom Summer Anniversary

Gainesville, FL— On January 22, 2014, George A. Smathers Libraries and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program will release the first round in a series of oral history interviews with civil rights veterans of the Mississippi freedom movement for UF’s week of celebration surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The collection, “The Mississippi Freedom Project,” will be available online through UF Digital Collections.

In June, the archive will feature 64 completed interviews for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, when SPOHP will present the transcripts to interviewees during reunion celebrations in Mississippi. Highlights from the upcoming collection release include an organizing workshop with Lawrence Guyot, Director of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, and interviews with Liz Fusco, who served as Mississippi Statewide Coordinator of Freedom Schools, and Kelvin Williams, elected the first African American sheriff of Bolivar County since Reconstruction in 2011.

The Mississippi Freedom Project, initiated in 2004 in partnership with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization, focuses on interviews with civil rights veterans and notable residents of the Mississippi Delta. Every September, SPOHP sends a team of researchers to the Mississippi Delta to collect interviews and facilitate public workshops and lectures with veteran activists.

Students on the Mississippi Freedom Project research trip conduct oral history interviews in the Mississippi Delta and attend workshops on social justice issues at a variety of historically and culturally significant locations, including the Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museum in Belzoni and the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Sunflower, Mississippi, as well as others in Cleveland and Glendora. The research trip also sponsors a public history panel each year at Delta State University, and transcripts from these panels will also be made available online to accompany archived video.

The richly diverse thematic focus of the Mississippi Freedom Project interviews will help to promote a broad, interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of African American history, US social history, public policy, psychology, agriculture, and technological change, among other topics. Mississippi Freedom Project interviews are also archived with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization for educational use.

The Mississippi Freedom Project is currently being processed using a grant sponsored by George A. Smathers Libraries, in partnership with African American Studies librarian Jana Ronan. Future goals for the project include the development of a Freedom Summer LibGuide, two new podcasts, and a second phase which involves optimizing transcripts and expanded Mississippi Freedom Project content on SPOHP’s website throughout the year.

For more information about the Mississippi Freedom Project, please contact the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, at 352-392-7168 or online at http://oral.history.ufl.edu.

Download and share the press release (PDF).

December 4, Mississippi Freedom Project: Year 6 at the Civic Media Center

Join SPOHP’ers sharing oral histories from veterans of the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta, December 4 at the CMC at 6:00 p.m.

Recap: Reflections from the Oral History Association 47th Annual Conference in Oklahoma City, OK

SPOHP at the 2013 Oral History Association annual conference in Oklahoma City, OK.
SPOHP at the 2013 Oral History Association annual conference in Oklahoma City, OK in October.

From October 9-13, the Oral History Association hosted its 47th annual conference in Oklahoma City, OK. The conference featured presentations from researchers from around the world, including members of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Dr. Paul Ortiz, Joanna Joseph, and Graduate Coordinators Jessica Taylor, Justin Dunnavant,  and Ryan Morini.

Justin Dunnavant

The Oral History conference gave me great insight into the breadth of research being conducted within oral history. Panelists flew in from all over the world representing communities from as far afield as Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. I had the opportunity to meet with scholars studying similar themes of displacement and dispossession and track similarities between the civil rights struggles of African Americans and the Maori of New Zealand. Unknowingly we even crammed into an elevator with the renowned oral historian Alessandro Portelli.

My presentation entitled, “Veterans of SNCC: The Painful Memories of the War for Equality” contextualized Freedom Summer in the framework of warfare and presented a need for Civil Rights veterans to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Such a designation would allow them to acquire veteran’s benefits and the accolades associated with heroism in military service. My powerpoint presentation was interspersed with audio clips from interviews conducted with veterans of Freedom Summer.

In addition to our individual presentations, SPOHP members collectively accepted the Stetson Kennedy Vox Populi (“Voice of the People”) Award on behalf of the program. In sharing our work, audience members asked how we find the strength to continue when confronted with stories of immense hopelessness and grief. Pondering the question for the first time, I came to the realization that it’s often the most depressing stories that give you the motivation to carry on.

The highlight of the conference resonated in the keynote address. Dovie Thomason left the audience with some deep reflections on ethics and the significance of oral histories. She reminded us of the seriousness of retaining oral histories, stressing that the best storyteller must be a great listener, first and foremost. My only regret is that I was able to attend the conference earlier. I look forward to participating in the 48th annual conference, “Oral History in Motion: Movements, Transformations, and the Power of Story” in Madison, Wisconsin next year.

Jessica Taylor

While I’ve attended and presented at conferences before, I’ve never done so as part of a team of students. The experience can be isolating as a lone undergraduate and graduate; it’s difficult to network when the distance between yourself and a group of senior scholars remains at the forefront of your mind. However, as part of a delegation representing not only my university but an award-winning program, I felt that together we collected conversations and experiences over the course of the conference that made our own conversations about oral history stronger.

During our off-time, I don’t think that any two of us attended the same panel: we were each other’s eyes in every room. I’m excited to share what I learned about lyrics as oral history in the New Deal workshop with Dr. Frisch in my own and others’ survey classes, and Justin talked to us about some weaknesses in a panel he attended that helped us strengthen our own presentations the night before. We also met with other grad students who presented on post-World War II Germany in a panel we could not attend, but still shared their ideas with us at a chance meeting in the lobby. The grad student network at the OHA was open and supportive, but I suspect that it is undergirded by equally supportive and reassuring advisors and advocates established in the field.

UF students gave as good as they got at the OHAs, and that alone bolsters camaraderie. Working late at night to perfect presentations and anticipate post-panel discussion questions paid off the day of our presentation. Joanna and I helped Justin narrow down his clip times, and I spent dinner talking over heritage and anthropology with Ryan the night before. Together, we knew to complement one another’s presentations with our respective opinions and perspectives on our time in Mississippi while keeping the individuality of our experiences in the field. The results reflected both our Mississippi and Oklahoma experiences. The audience felt at ease to laugh and inquire with us, and our circle of friends tied to Mississippi got larger.

Groundswell.org: UF Oral History Program Digs Deep in the Delta

“UF Oral History Program Digs Deep in the Delta” from the Groundswell Blog, October 4, 2013.

Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change is a dynamic, active network of oral historians, activists, cultural workers, community organizers, and documentary artists who are using oral history and narrative in creative, effective and ethical ways to support movement building and transformative social change.  Groundswell recently featured the Mississippi Freedom Project’s annual research trip on their blog, in a post by SPOHP’s Sarah Blanc and featuring photos from AAHP Graduate Coordinator Justin Dunnavant.

Whether your interviewee is an elderly, impoverished black woman who lived most of her life as a sharecropper, or an elderly, wealthy white man who is determined to convince you that “the race problem is over down here,” the students understand the ‘slow and respectful work’ required to set the record straight.

-Groundswell, Oct. 2013

 

Sept. 17-22, The 6th Annual Mississippi Freedom Project Tour and Speaker Series

Gainesville, FL—During the week of September 17 through September 22, the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) at UF will return to the Mississippi Delta to continue research on the civil rights movement in Mississippi with veteran civil rights activists and leading scholars of the Mississippi campaign for equal rights. SPOHP will bring a research team of UF graduate and undergraduate students to continue collaboration with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization to conduct oral history interviews in the historic Mississippi Delta region. The research team will focus on uncovering the movement’s origins and researching its impact, as well as documenting contemporary legacies in a region that gave birth to one of the most vibrant social movements in American history.

This year marks the 6th anniversary of SPOHP’s Mississippi Delta research trip. SPOHP will take a team of fifteen University of Florida researchers to the region to explore the Delta’s tumultuous past and contemporary social problems. On the way, the group will stop in Tallahassee, Florida to spend an afternoon with Mrs. Laura Dixie, an organizer of the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott and a lifetime civil rights and labor activist. Mrs. Dixie will discuss the life of the Rev. C.K. Steele, Patricia Stephens Due and other key Florida movement activists from the 1950s and 1960s.

This year, SPOHP is continuing a partnership with the McComb Legacies Project in the McComb School District. The Legacies Project is a collaborative effort of the district and community members of the Local History Advisory Committee who are committed to the research, documentation, and sharing of McComb’s history. The Legacies Project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in a grant to “Teaching for Change” that provides students with the opportunities to explore the history of the Civil Rights Movement and labor history during the school day and after school. Last year, the students produced a documentary called “The Voting Rights Struggle,” which won numerous awards and advanced to the national level of the National History Day competition. Legacies Project and SPOHP students will conduct oral history interviews together in McComb before departing for the Delta the following day.

While in the Delta, SPOHP will conduct oral history interviews and host workshops on social justice issues at locations in the region that are annual stops for the research trip, including the Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museum in Belzoni and the Sunflower County Freedom Project in Sunflower, Mississippi, as well as others in Cleveland and Glendora. Student researchers will have the opportunity to interviews and learn from seasoned public history advocates from varied backgrounds. These long-standing relationships are crucial for SPOHP to have opportunities to work within communities.

The capstone of SPOHP’s agenda in the Delta is a public history panel at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, which focuses on the legacies of the civil rights movement in the Delta. This panel will be held on the evening of September 19 at 6:00 p.m. in the Jacob Conference Center. Each year, the panel invites movement veterans, historians, educators, and area youth to discuss the importance of studying struggles for democracy as well as the contemporary lessons in civic engagement that can be drawn from organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The theme of this year’s panel is “Violence, Non-Violence, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Panelists will discuss the various forms of non-violent direct action taken up by civil rights veterans to bring voting rights to all Americans, and the violent backlash of vigilantes, white supremacists, and organized mobs that resulted. Professor Akinyele Umoja of Georgia State University will be a panelist at the event, speaking on his acclaimed new book, “We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.” The event will include a book signing and singing of Freedom Songs. Teachers, students, and community activists who attend the panel will receive free educational DVD’s on the histories of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and in Florida. Last year, the Delta State panel drew more than 200 audience participants, the majority of whom were public school students.

Interviews collected during this research trip will be deposited in a publicly accessible archive at the University of Florida as well as with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization in Mississippi for educational use. In December 2013, SPOHP students from the trip will present their reflections in a public panel at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville. In addition, students will produce brief educational audio podcasts of their interviews when they return to Gainesville. These podcasts will be featured on SPOHP’s popular iTunes portal. Major themes of past podcasts include: the role of music in movement organizing, women’s contributions to the civil rights movement & the connection between local organizing and national politics. All of these materials will be made accessible to area schoolteachers.

This research trip is co-sponsored by Mr. William De Grove, the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, UF African American Studies program, UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UF Office of Research, UF Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, The Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization, The Diversity Advisory Committee at Delta State University & The Sam Block Civil Rights Organization.

Press Release
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida
September 11, 2013

Freedom Summer Oral History and Library Curation Project at UF Begins to Process Interviews

Gainesville, FL, August 15, 2013—George A. Smathers Libraries approved a mini-grant proposal to transcribe the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP)’s Mississippi Freedom Project collection. The collection features in-depth oral history interviews with leaders and activists involved in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. The completion of this project is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer during the summer of 2014.

The Mississippi Freedom Project is a collection of over 100 interviews focusing on civil rights  activism and organizing in the Mississippi Delta, including important events such as Mississippi Freedom Summer, the nationally-recognized voter registration drive that took place in the Mississippi Delta in the summer of 1964 amidst racial violence and oppressive Jim Crow laws, and the founding of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the political formation most responsible for the formulation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Mississippi Freedom Project collection is an ongoing series of interviews conducted since 2004. Every September, SPOHP sends a team of researchers to the Mississippi Delta to collect interviews and facilitate public workshops and lectures with veteran activists, lending the collection a unique focus on the lessons and work of community organizing in the Civil Rights Movement as it connects to the current social and political climate in Mississippi today. The Mississippi Freedom Project includes an interview and organizing workshop with Lawrence Guyot, Director of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, and interviews with Liz Fusco, who served as Mississippi Statewide Coordinator of Freedom Schools, Kelvin Williams, elected the first African American sheriff of Bolivar County since Reconstruction in 2011, and students at the Sunflower County Freedom Project as well as the former Teach for America volunteers who now direct the program. Several interviews also contain reflections from individuals who worked directly with Fannie Lou Hamer, chair of the MFDP and a formidable civil rights leader and community organizer, as well as the experiences of lawyers whose depositions and affidavits formed the justification of Section 5, the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

In September 2013, SPOHP will send another team of researchers to gather more interviews for the collection. SPOHP is also a co-sponsor of the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization’s 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer Reunion, to take place in June 2014.

African American Studies librarian Jana Ronan developed the proposal in collaboration with SPOHP researchers, and the proposal was approved by the mini-grant committee in May of 2013. The transcribed interviews will become a part of the University of Florida Digital Collections online, where they are available to researchers and educators. SPOHP will also present these transcripts to veterans of the Mississippi Freedom Summer at their 50th anniversary reunion in July of 2014. This processing project will leverage existing knowledge, resources, and partnerships to promote online access to the Mississippi Freedom Project collection, including the development of a Freedom Summer LibGuide, two new podcasts, and a second phase which involves continuing transcription, Google Optimization of transcripts, and expanded Mississippi Freedom Project content on SPOHP’s website.

As the upcoming 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer approaches, students, teachers, professors, and interested citizens will be seeking more information about the summer of 1964, and in-depth understanding of the context in which these historical events took place. The richly diverse thematic focus of the Mississippi Freedom Project interviews will help to promote a broad, interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of African American history, US social history, public policy, psychology, agriculture, and technological change, among other topics. Once processed, these interviews will support new research questions and intellectual outcomes.

The digitized, accessible oral history interviews in the Mississippi Freedom Project collection will be findable on the web at the University of Florida Digital Collections site, as well as through mainstream search engines such as Google or Bing, and represented in scholarly search engines such as Summon.

For more information, contact:

Dr. Paul Ortiz
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program Director
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, University of Florida
241 Pugh Hall ∙ PO Box 115215
Gainesville, FL, 32611
(352) 392-7168
ortizprof@gmail.com

Welcome

Jana Ronan
African American Studies
University of Florida Libraries
(352) 273-2623
jronan@ufl.edu

News Release
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP), University of Florida
August 15, 2013

Tananarive Due’s parents left her civil rights lessons

Tananarive Due, daughter of civil rights activists Patricia Stephens Due and John Due, remembers the March on Washington from her parents’ stories. USA Today interviewed Tananarive about the event on August 19.

Patricia Stephens Due, together with her husband John Due, presented a public program “An Evening with the Dues: Pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement” with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida in February 2011. In 1960, Patricia Stephens Due and five other students from Florida A&M University made history when they chose a jail cell rather than paying a fine for sitting at a “Whites Only” lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida. The 49 days Due served in jail represented the first “jail-in” of the Civil Rights Movement, and the beginning of her lifelong fight for human and civil rights in America. John D. Due, Jr. is a prominent civil rights attorney who was selected by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to serve as Field Secretary for the organization’s first voter education and registration project in North Florida. Due’s work in Florida registered more African Americans to vote than another region in the South.

Tananarive Due and her father John Due worked with SPOHP in McComb, Mississippi in February for the McComb Legacies Project student-led conference documentary premiere. John Due also travels with SPOHP on our Mississippi Freedom Project research trip to teach students about civil rights history.

John Due is an interviewee in MFP-109 and MFP-113 (Mississippi Freedom Project), and WAF-020 (Women Activist Feminists) at SPOHP.

Read the full article: USA Today, “Tananarive Due’s parents left her civil rights lessons,” by Steph Solis August 19, 2013. Tananarive Due is a professor at Spelman College, where she is the Cosby Chair in the Humanities. Visit her website.