CARBONDALE -- Memories of the Civil Rights Movement 50 years ago will be shared in September at SIU.

An exhibit, discussion and reception will commemorate work done by a group of SIU students, alumni and former students in the Mississippi Project, or what become known as Freedom Summer.

The display, “Fifty Summers Ago: SIU Students in Mississippi,” is on display in the Morris Library first-floor rotunda. The exhibit features articles from the Daily Egyptian from that time, along with other archival material to illustrate the roles SIU students played in the fight for civil rights in 1964.

The public discussion and reception is from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Sept. 5 at Morris Library. The event is open to the public.

Speakers will include SIU professor of Africana studies Father Joseph Brown and Carbondale City Councilwoman and professor emeritus of anthropology Jane Adams.

Adams chaired the Mississippi Summer Project at SIU and taught in the Freedom School in Harmony, Mississippi. Freedom Schools were temporary, free, alternative schools for African-American children in the South.

“I am really delighted and honored this is being remembered,” Adams said. “I think it is important for us to remember that history, and to not think we got where we are today without a lot of people contributing and bringing us here, both white and black.”

Adams said her job during the summer of 1964 was to disseminate information about federal programs and canvas for the Freedom Democratic Party, which was trying to replace the regular Democratic Party at the Democratic Convention that year.

“One of the things I most remember is that it was there I learned how artificial the idea of race is,” she said. “The whole structure of white supremacy and segregation was being taking apart during this Civil Rights Movement. 

“It was because people in the rural community said they aren’t gong to live like second-class citizens anymore, and they acted on it.”

Father Brown was not in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer because he just entered into his religious community training, but he said he is more than happy to speak at this event.

“There are very few moments in our recent history where we can actually say that multicultural activities can make a difference in a very concrete and long term way,” Brown said.

“I think that the Freedom Summer brought people from every condition and class to do something very important because these young people, so many of them college-aged students, actually thought they could make a difference in this world, and they did.

“That doesn’t happen very often in our recent memory.”

Brown said Freedom Summer was an opportunity to look at people who realized there was a debt that needed to be handled. 

“Dr. King, in the summer of 1963, gave his “I have a Dream” speech, and in the summer of 1964, people are saying let’s make sure we push that dream closer to reality,” he said. “That is a beautiful, beautiful follow-up that we have not paid that much attention to."

The 1964 SIU contingent joined people from across the nation, working with African-Americans in Mississippi. Members of the group taught in freedom schools, established community centers and registered people to vote. They gave their time, energy and leadership, putting into practice lessons learned through the civil right struggles on campus and in Carbondale, Cairo and other area communities.

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Dustin Duncan is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Carbondale.

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