Research topic Black history month 2014: African Americans risked all for voting rights during Freedom Summer 1964

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the freedom movement, PBS will air "Freedom Summer" on June 24, 2014.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the freedom movement, PBS will air “Freedom Summer” on June 24, 2014.

Do you have a course project related to Black history month? This is a good year to put your attention on African Americans who have made a difference in American history. Throughout the year, Americans will be celebrating Freedom Summer in remembrance of the advances in voting rights that were won during the summer of 1964. It was landmark legislation then and it is still an issue at the forefront of American politics as we fight to maintain the right to vote without impediments.

Freedom Summer

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when an African American was risking life and limb when attempting to vote. This was especially true in the state of Mississippi. In an attempt to help support minority voters in the South, during the summer of 1964 hundreds of college students from Northern states traveled to Mississippi to help register black voters.

Many of those volunteers were injured in the process. Three of them — Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney — were murdered. On January 23, 2014 Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman reflected on the events of 1964 with filmmaker Stanley Nelson, whose documentary, “Freedom Summer”, had just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Her interview with Nelson was posted in an article for DemocracyNow.org titled, “Freedom Summer: How Civil Rights Activists Braved Violence to Challenge Racism in 1964 Mississippi.”

“Out of Freedom Summer grew the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that challenged the legitimacy of the white-only Mississippi Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Events are being held across Mississippi this year, in 2014, to mark the 50th anniversary of this historic moment,” Goodman said.

Courage remembered

You can read more about the events of summer 1964 at Questia, the Internet’s largest library of full-text books and articles. One article worth reading, “Triumph of Courage; Remembering Mississippi Freedom Summer,” by David Pitts was published in The Washington Times June 18, 2004.

Pitts described how the murders of the three civil rights workers galvanized the voting rights movement.

According to Pitts, “The crime electrified efforts to register black Americans to vote all over the South, and national indignation over the murders helped then-President Johnson pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act less than a month after the murders occurred. This legislation, together with the Voting Rights Act passed the following year, was arguably the most important of the 20th century.”

Voting rights in jeopardy

Present-day college students born long after the summer of 1964 are so far removed from the events of that year that the events themselves might not seem very important. But the right to vote is at the very heart of our democracy. Yet, our Constitution does not guarantee the right to vote. It is a right that has to be guarded by the people themselves.

Voting rights in the United States have been eroded thanks in part to a Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder (2013). This landmark case essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act and puts the right to vote at risk for thousands of racial minorities, the elderly, women and students.

The removal of protections for voters has enabled some states such as Texas and North Carolina to impose strict voter identification rules that make it virtually impossible for thousands to vote. In an October 31, 2013 article for TheAtlantic.com titled, “The U.S. Needs a Constitutional Right to Vote,” Norm Ornstein opined about the changes in voter requirements.

“The reasoning employed by Chief Justice John Roberts in Shelby County—that Section 5 of the act was such a spectacular success that it is no longer necessary—was the equivalent of taking down speed cameras and traffic lights and removing speed limits from a dangerous intersection because they had combined to reduce accidents and traffic deaths,” Ornstein said.

Where to learn more

You can learn more about Freedom Summer and the voting rights movement at these sites:

  • Freedom Summer movie trailer on Vimeo [http://vimeo.com/83539844]
  • History.com [http://www.history.com/topics/freedom-summer]
  • Wisconsin Historical Society [http://preview.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=N:1474]
  • Civil Rights Digital Library [http://crdl.usg.edu/events/freedom_summer/?Welcome]
  • The Winter Institute Calendar of events for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer [http://winterinstitute.org/freedom-summer-50th-anniversary-calendar/]

Read more about African-American history on Questia.

How do you feel about the current state of voting rights in the U.S.? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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