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Student Freedom Summer Activists Return To Mississippi
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This month marks 50 years since hundreds of students traveled to Mississippi for what is known as Freedom Summer. As MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports many gathered at Tougaloo College to look back on their work in 1964.
1964's Freedom Summer was the turning point of the civil rights movement as young advocates swarmed into the state to do outreach and attempt to register African-Americans to vote.
John Wilkins is one of the white students who traveled to the state from Texas.
He says he was motivated to get involved even though his father grew up a racist.
"When he was 13 years old he sais 'I held a club over a Nigger boy and I would have knocked his brains out for no other reason than that he was black'. About 30 minutes before we needed to leave to go back to El Dorado for me to catch the bus my father called me in the living room. And he proceeded to give me every reason why I shouldn't go and ended up saying 'go. it's right'," Wilkins said.
An estimated 700 white and black activists from around the country traveled to Mississippi generating national media attention on the movement.
Cleveland Sellers, who is an African-American came to Mississippi from South Carolina.
He says a lasting legacy of Freedom Summer is the model it created for other groups to generate change.
"We developed a model in Mississipi that we could take out and let them organize themselves. Those groups that are marginalized. Hispanics, Native Americans, Seniors and all that kind of thing. So there was some very positive benefit that came out of Mississippi. So it is good for us to come back after 50 years and take a look at our work," Sellers said.
While many returned home after that summer, Nancy Schieffelin says she went back to Boston with a stronger commitment to civil rights for all Americans.
"The lesson over the years for me is that you have to fight all the time. It is a struggle all the time. It is never mission accomplished," Schieffelin said.
More then 1-thousand people were arrested during Freedom Summer and at least seven people were killed for their civil rights advocacy.