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Friday, June 20, 2014

Freedom Summer 1964 and Its Impacts Today

Welcome to this week's Friday Flashback. Each Friday in the Flashback we will offer a post about some part of the past and its relationship to DC. Sometimes, we will write a new entry. Others times, we will showcase articles that previously appeared in The Prices Do DC or some other online publications. But no matter who does the writing, you can trust that you will learn something important from the Flashback

While great strides were made during the Civil Rights Movement, America today is backsliding when its comes to protecting the rights of all its citizens, 2 leaders from that 1950s/1960s movement warned this week.

Bob Moses (photo by Bruce Guthrie)
Bob Moses, former head of the SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and Rita Schwerner Bender, the widow of slain civil rights worker James Schwerner, delivered their remarks following a premiere showing of part of the new documentary Freedom Summer at the Newseum. Both Moses and Schwerner Bender were featured in the film.

"We are not a country that wants to own its history," Moses said. "We have to ask - are we a country that pays attention to its history?"

Moses says that recent Supreme Court action overturning provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and individual state actions across the country suppressing voters' rights threaten democracy. ""We're not out of this, not by a long shot," Moses said.

The former SNNC leader said that America was established "on a Constitutional fault line" of freedom and slavery. "I think we are a country that lurches. In the 1950s and '60s we lurched forward, but in the '80s with (President Ronald) Reagan, we lurched backward. We have never agreed on the 14th and the 15th Amendments. We need an affirmative right to vote."

The Newseum is currently featuring an exhibit entitled Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement. Moses borrowed that title for his closing.

"The noise we should make is the Preamble to the Constitution. It says We, the People. It does not say We the President, or We the Congress, or We the Supreme Court. It just says We the People. It is a fact that this generation has got to bring about Constitutional citizenship for all the people in this country," Moses said.

Rita Schwerner Bender
(photo by Bruce Guthie)
Schwerner Bender said current trends in the country are disturbing. "We are at a very dangerous place in this country," Schwerner Bender said. "We need to know where we were to know where we are now."

She is convinced that racism was, and continues to be a problem, a major problem in America. Her former husband James and fellow civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were the subject of a massive manhunt after they were reported missing in Mississippi on this date in 1964. Eventually their bodies were discovered buried in a field, murdered by the Ku Klux Klan and a Mississippi deputy sheriff. "The investigation only happened because 2 of the 3 were white. That says a great deal about the racism that still exists in this country," Schwerner Bender said.

"The Civil Rights Movement created the space  in which some politics could happen, or maybe more accurately were forced to happen. Politicians were not so anxious then to take on their southern brothers," she said.

The situation is somewhat analogous to today, Schwerner Bender said. "A Congress that will not act is unacceptable," she said. "We have to demand rights for all our people before we slide back. We're not in a very good place right now and we need to make the noise so that the government has to do right by all of us."

Extra! Extra! Read All About It
More on the film Freedom Summer

Retracing a summer of terror. (from CNN)

Freedom Summer takes an in-depth look at the 1964 civil rights battle in Mississippi (from The Plain Dealer)

A half-century battle for voting rights. (from Consortium News)

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