Civil rights activists, youth organizers and religious leaders from around the country will travel south this week to participate in the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference.
Dubbed Freedom 50, the commemoration (June 25-29) will remember the civil rights history made in Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer and will create the largest convening of youth activists in the state since that original campaign for voting rights.
“I’m going to Freedom Summer because I feel it’s a positive step in the unification of people of color,” says Keeshan Harley, a youth organizer with Make the Road New York who has been working against stop-and-frisk laws in New York City and who took a 20-hour bus ride to Mississippi. “It’s not that we are from New York and this is how New Yorkers do it, or this is how Los Angeles does it or Florida. We need a mutual conversation so we can move forward on the same page and understand that we are all afflicted by methods of modern slavery.”
While many remember the 1964 Freedom Summer as a voting-rights campaign in the black community, this year’s Freedom Summer is expanding that vision to encompass a more diverse vision of the country. You need only look to the lineup of Youth Congress panels to see this expansion.
“It’ll be kind of like a clearinghouse for black and brown folks,” says Nelini Stamp, who has been helping to organize the Freedom Summer commemoration for several months. “We have so many different people of color and undocumented folks, and we are making sure that queer and gendered folks are represented.”
While the participants at this year’s Freedom Summer are more diverse, they also have a more diverse set of issues that they’re focusing on. The 1964 events did include discussions of workers’ rights and education, but this year’s Youth Congress expands on these issues to include immigration reform, health care reform, prison abolition, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
While the anniversary conference and Youth Congress (which launched on June 23) will focus on education and relationship building, some attendants are already looking to begin planning 2014 actions around the issues discussed this week in Mississippi.
Conference Chairman Hollis Watkins says, “This commemorative period will enact a true Sankofa-bird experience, enabling us to review the past as we look to the future.”
To help put history in context, the impressive lineup of conference speakers includes civil rights veterans like Julian Bond, Bennie Thompson, Bob Moses and Marian Wright Edelman. Participants also anticipate screenings of various documentary films about the Freedom Summer movement throughout the week. But for many the highlight of the commemoration events will be the Youth Congress, which will examine the issues of today and look toward pushing change in the future.
Amity Paye has written for various publications, including the Amsterdam News and Time Out New York.