An Examination of Mississippi Freedom Schools

The Mississippi Freedom Schools changed lives. They opened doors for students and created exciting new possibilities for thousands of young black Mississippians who attended them during the summer of 1964. A largely unknown aspect of the Freedom Summer Movement, Mississippi Freedom Schools were a series of voluntary schools conducted across the state during Freedom Summer.

Still racially segregated a decade after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, Mississippi’s black and white public schools were extremely unequal. To help remedy the tragic educational disparities and develop a new generation of activists, Freedom Schools were organized by civil rights activists and designed to empower black Mississippi youths by supplementing their substandard public school educational opportunities with rigorous content and culturally relevant instruction.

And out of the Freedom School movement grew a radical print culture as more than a dozen schools gave students the independence to write, edit, print, and publish their own newspapers. The experiences and voices of those hopeful Mississippi Freedom School students are captured in To Write in the Light of Freedom: The Newspapers of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools. This book collects hundreds of writings published by Freedom School students that include articles, essays, poems, and testimonies all written by Freedom School students.

Now fifty years after Freedom Summer, To Write in the Light of Freedom offers a glimpse into the hearts of the African American youths who attended the Mississippi Freedom Schools. One of the most successful initiatives of Freedom Summer, more than forty Freedom Schools opened doors to thousands of young African American students. Here they learned civics, politics, and history, curricula that helped them see beyond the degrading lessons supporting segregation and Jim Crow and sanctioned by White Citizen's Councils.

The schools gave young people an enhanced self-esteem and gained and afforded them new outlook on the future. For more than five decades, the Mississippi Freedom Schools have served as powerful models of educational activism. And yet, little has been published that documents black Mississippi youths' responses to this profound experience.

Editors William Sturkey and Jon N. Hale have collected here for the first time the sincere words, thoughts, and dreams of the original students are published here in a powerful documentary collection. The book also contains several black and white photographs of the schools and students.

The book gives readers a unique insight into the intellectual responses of everyday Movement participants. On display here are raw, honest reactions to Freedom Schools, to the civil rights movement, and to life under Jim Crow. Together, these transcribed newspaper pieces recover the inspiring voices of Freedom School students, and offer a unique vision of how everyday youth responded to the clarion call of the civil rights movement.

The video below catches up with one Freedom School teacher and shares her experience. Although, not connected with our book in any way, this is a great exploration of the subject matter.

How Freedom Schools Changed Mississippi from Mike Fritz on Vimeo.