August 05, 2014

Exhibit, talk will look at ‘Freedom Summer’

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- An exhibit, discussion and reception commemorate the work by a group of Southern Illinois University Carbondale students, alumni and former students in the Mississippi Project, or what became known as “Freedom Summer.” 

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

There will also be a public discussion and reception in the rotunda from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 5.  The event is open to the public. 

Speakers will include Father Joseph A. Brown, professor of Africana Studies, and Jane Adams, Carbondale city council member and professor emeritus of anthropology.  Adams chaired the Mississippi Summer Project at SIU and taught in the Freedom School in Harmony, Miss.  Freedom Schools were temporary, free, alternative schools for African-American children in the south.  

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 of their time, energy and leadership, putting into practice lessons learned through the civil rights struggles on campus and in Carbondale, Cairo and other area communities.  They continued their quest for equality among peoples despite harassment and threats of violence. 

While working in Mississippi that summer, Adams’ brother, Jim, registered voters in the greater Greenville area, Ed Hamlett served as a field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Sue Nichols taught at a Freedom School in Mileston.  Redbook magazine featured the efforts of Kay Prickett in Greenville on behalf of civil rights and ending segregation and her brother, Charles, worked in Madison County.  Meanwhile, Vince Tranquilli registered voters and John O’Neal founded the Free Southern Theater. 

Brothers Charles, Carver and Cortez Nesblett all worked with SNCC and Charles, one of the group’s Freedom Singers, wrote the lyrics to the civil rights anthem “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus.”  Friends and families of the SIU ambassadors raised money to support the volunteers and collected and donated supplies for the Freedom Schools.