Learning from Our Past: Freedom Summer Conference

We made it to the last part of our trip in Jackson, Miss. and will be attending the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference for the rest of the week.

The conference is the first reunion of Freedom Summer volunteers, children who grew up during that period, and the younger generation that is currently learning about the Civil Rights Movement.

Over 1500 people young and old will attend the conference in Jackson, Miss. this week.

Over 1500 people young and old will attend the conference in Jackson, Miss. this week.

Over 1,500 people will be attending the conference, which is being held at Tougaloo College. The conference is in session from Monday, June 23 to Sunday, June 29.

This conference is unique because it’s intergenerational. Today’s young people like ourselves will be meeting with the older generation that participated in the movement.

The president of Tougaloo College welcomed everyone to the conference on Tuesday.

“This is where the wisdom of the past meets the energy of today,” President Beverly Hogan said. President Hogan is the first woman president of Tougaloo College.

Dr. Beverly Hogan is the first woman president of Tougaloo College.

Dr. Beverly Hogan is the first woman president of Tougaloo College.

Each day is filled with breakout sessions that discuss the issues of past Civil Rights Movement and compares them to today’s issues. The main categories are education, voting rights, health, and worker’s rights.

The first session we attended was the opening plenary for Wednesday morning, “The Freedom Struggle in Mississippi 1944-2014.” This panel featured Hollis Watkins, Derrick Johnson, and the mayor of Jackson, Tony Yarber. Actor Danny Glover was supposed to be on the panel, but due to a death in his family, he was not present for this panel. Moderator Dr. Joyce Ladner said he would be at the conference later in the week.

Freedom singers were performing at the conference and the audience joined in.

Freedom singers were performing at the conference and the audience joined in.

The panelists talked about what they hoped people would learn at the conference and how it might affect today’s issues like the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline, voter rights, worker’s rights, and health care issues in Mississippi.

After the first panel, we went to lunch and the bookstore and then split up to attend the afternoon sessions. About five of us went to the Voting Rights panel, “Our Southern Strategy: Taking the Leadership.”

The panelists were Mike Sayer, Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes of District 119 of Mississippi, Dr. D’Andra Orey, Rashad Robinson and moderator Derrick Simmons.

This panel discussed voting rights issues of today and the past. Left to right: Dr. D'AndraOrey, Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, moderator Derrick Simmons, Rashad Robinson, and Mike Sayer.

This panel discussed voting rights issues of today and the past. Left to right: Dr. D’AndraOrey, Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, moderator Derrick Simmons, Rashad Robinson, and Mike Sayer.

They talked about continuing the voting rights work that was started after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted into law. Freedom Summer school teachers and volunteers worked to educate people about the right to vote and why it was important.

Rep. William-Barnes said that it’s the “power of the vote that determines the price of things. We need to educate young people about the politics, tell them to vote, and why that power is important.”

Mike Sayer agreed and said the key is local grassroots organization like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) did in the 1960s and they were successful.

After the sessions ended, we went back to the hotel and ate at Applebee’s with Professor Tomas Tolvaisas, while Professor Campbell and Joe went back to Meridian for a ceremony honoring Sadie Clark Martin and Roscoe Jones.

The students were supposed to go, but we exercised our freedom of speech and assembly and said we would prefer not to backtrack two hours. Instead, we went to a movie at the conference, “Freedom Summer,” that aired on PBS on Tuesday night, June 21.

Check out the day’s photos here!

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