August 20, 2015

A Snapshot of Freedom Summer

Because we want to live as decent human beings in America. 
                                                                                    — Fannie Lou Hamer

Freedom Summer (also known is the Mississippi Summer Project) is a remarkable moment in American History made more visible in a PBS documentary directed by Stanley Nelson.  This film sheds light on ten weeks in 1964 where a collective effort against exclusion, discrimination and segregation moved throughout Mississippi while the nation and the world watched on television.  A movement of more than 700 young people who were mostly college students from across the United States traveled for the Mississippi Summer Project to support the grassroots leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in advancing voter registration efforts, teaching in freedom schools as well as local supporting leadership in organizing the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. There was guidance from co-founders Ella Baker, Robert Moses, Julian Bond, and other Civil Rights leaders.  The aim was to move people take possession of their own lives in communities. 

Nelson talks about it:

In Mississippi a historical persistent struggle for socioeconomic opportunity leads poverty and a hard life where many families and communities felt powerless. In the documentary a resident's letters describes the lethal aspect of the climate she says, “…violence hangs overhead like dead air. It hangs there, and maybe it will fall. 

Historian John Dittmer was interviewed in the documentary, in his book The Good Doctors he describes the role the Medical Committee for Human Rights with fifty-seven physicians, eighteen nurses and thirteen other health care professionals who were there on the ground with SNCC providing clinical care. The Medical Committee also saw its role as alleviating the conditions produced by the stress…." Furthermore, the Medical Committee had a critical in the investigation into the deaths of Mississippi Freedom Project volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Congress of Racial Equality worker Michael Schwerner who lost their lives on June 21,1964 in Neshoba County.

You can see the PBS Freedom Summer documentary online. Here's a clip:


A final SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.
                                                                                —Julian Bond, 1940-2015

I was watching Freedom Summer again last the weekend when Julian Bond passed away.  His work for civil rights and human rights is experienced throughout our nation and beyond.  Condolences during this time go to his family, friends and beloved community. 

August 11, 2015

Black Life Matters: Here is the Evidence

The heat of this summer struck me when I saw this photo in the news from the Watts Riots in Los Angeles — 50 years ago. 

At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture an exhibit, Curators’Choice: Black Life Matters up until August 15, 2015. It holds layers on the complexity everyday black life for reflection on #BlackLivesMatter.  "The exhibition presents issues of history and culture, art and society, memory and narrative, intimacy and rejection, joy and comfort, race and justice (of life and death) that are just a relevant today as ever before."

A large exhibit banner hangs high outside at the top of the building almost as a memorial. I have moved through the exhibit space a few times. First musing Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and other visual artists then the storytelling of Browngirl Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. There are moving images and recorded sounds in the "Evidence of Things Un*Seen" with a documentary on the Civil Rights Movment.  A global diaspora lens into black life around the world is found in the wonder of the photojournalist lens of Richard Saunders.  I am eager to see more of his work and there is so much more behold in this exhibit.

I also have an exhibit postcard on the back cover of my journal as a reminder to write and create in response to the darkness. In the spirit of Arthur Schomburg's 1925 seminal essay, I feel an urge to dig deeper to create my own retrospective of black life through reading, visual art, music, performance and other cultural experiences. Uncovering historical evidence of generational black life genius. When time permits I have pulled down archives, reviewed photographs and artwork also reading what has meaning for me. 

There are long summer nights to grab hold of films, move through music, take hold of vast amounts of online educational lectures as well as other interactive material including social media.

I understand freedom as a process where every generation has tough questions to consider for a response in better days ahead. 

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