Freedom Summer- Commemorating 50 Years

Fifty years this June marks the anniversary for the beginning of a vital period in Mississippi history. This event marked a change in social equalities that impacted the entire United States and is known as Freedom Summer.

Freedom summer, also known as the Mississippi Summer Project, was a non-violent civil rights movement that took place in the summer of 1964 in the southern states of the US. College students and other volunteers  traveled to the South to register African Americans to vote. However, it was more than a voting campaign.


Volunteers would set up “freedom schools,” where citizens could go to learn how to achieve political, economical and social equality. They attempted to register 17,000 residents to vote from Mississippi, which had the lowest percentage of African American voters registered in the United States. They also built community centers that offered recreation, health care, and support systems.

Groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) led the training of approximately 700 volunteers of all races at the Western College for Women at Miami, now known as the Western campus. Training began June 14, 1964, and consisted of teaching students to defend themselves without violence against verbal and physical abuse. “The Freedom Summer movement exercised the pedagogy of hope for social and political transformation.” said Kevin Talbert, author of Freedom Summer 1964: Truth, Reconciliation, and Justice-How a Mississippi Community Lives the Legacy of Freedom Summer.

Volunteers would also hold registration drives, raising voter discrimination awareness to citizens. More than 800 people volunteered to help the effort on Western campus.  Miami University’s website stated that each volunteer was required to have $150 to make bail, the name of their next of kin and a picture taken for identification.


Rick Momeyer, a retired philosophy professor at Miami who had attended college at Allegany in Pennsylvania and graduated in 1964, became aware of the movement and came to Western to help train some of those volunteers. “My contribution was to get beat up.  I was the volunteer victim in the simulated play action during training,” Momeyer said.  He helped teach students how to handle those violent situations in which many students had been unfortunately put in.

There were two weeks of training on western campus. “In the first week there was a great need to build trust and get over some mistaken expectations, and to inform people of what was happening,” Momeyer said the second week was very different after everyone had gotten to know one another.

Freedom Summer is marked as one of the most violent events of Civil Rights history. During that time, approximately 70 buildings were bombed or burned, and hundreds of people were beaten and abused.

On June 21, 1964, the second week of the training, three men by the names of  Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, left the training in Oxford to investigate the burning of a church in Mississippi. On the way down, they were arrested for speeding.

After being released, the men headed to Meridian, Mississippi, but never arrived. The charred remains of their car was found in a swamp, and their bodies were found in a dam in Neshoba County, Mississippi.


Because of Miami’s role in Freedom Summer, the university dedicated a memorial on April 7th,  2000 in remembrance of the three men who were murdered in the summer of 1964.

Designed as an amphitheatre, the memorial is built in rows with individual stones for seats, and is located across from Kumler Chapel on Miami’s Western campus where the training took place.  Engraved on the front of each stone is a newspaper headline about Civil Rights and Freedom Summer in the year 1964.

Also, to show remembrance to the cause and the effects it had on civil rights today, Miami University will be holding a 50th year celebration for Freedom Summer. Though, in the past there have been celebrations for the 25th, 30th, 40th and 45th anniversary, the 50th anniversary will include a national conference for Freedom Summer, including a reunion of activists and scholars who contributed to the cause.

Sybil Miller, a member of the Freedom Summer Community Outreach Committee, has spoken about getting more local participation. “We are planning for community members to get involved,” said Miller. Many of the events and workshops will be open to the public, including a dinner on Sunday, October 12, a lunch and dinner with Chude Allen (a keynote speaker) on Monday, October 13, and a lunch with Keynote speaker Keith Beauchamp on October 14.