Images from Freedom Summer, 1964
Freedom Summer was extensively photographed by the news media, embedded professionals such as Herbert Randall and Danny Lyon, many participants, and bystanders or other observers. In this photo essay, we have collected images from the vast civil rights collections at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and the Wisconsin Historical Society. They range from poignant to powerful, offering a condensed visual story. These glimpses of Freedom Summer coincided in part with the Freedom Summer 1964 50th Anniversary Conference held at USM in Hattiesburg, Mississippi (June 19–21, 2014), the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference in Jackson, Mississippi (June 25–29, 2014), and the 50 Years After Freedom Summer conference at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (October 12–14, 2014).
The Wisconsin Historical Society owns more than ten thousand photographs related to the civil rights movement. They include a filmstrip assembled by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) early in 1965 from images taken during Freedom Summer to build support for their attempt to unseat Mississippi’s segregationist congressional delegation. The filmstrip contains more than seventy images; eight are shown here. Although most of the photographers are not identified, the filmstrip shows how key leaders and participants tried to employ images from Freedom Summer much as we might use a PowerPoint presentation today. Notes for an accompanying script verify that these images were meant to have a persuasive, rather than simply documentary, purpose.
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) holds more than one hundred collections related to civil rights, continues to actively collect in this area, and regularly adds images to its online digital civil rights [End Page 51] collections. Among these is the work of photographer Herbert Randall, who accompanied volunteers and documented activities in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, through the lens of his camera. This selection of eight of his photographs (i.e., chosen from over eight hundred now available online in his USM digital collection) shows volunteers gathering, registering new voters, participating in MFDP meetings, and teaching young people in the Freedom Schools.
Three visual exhibits were prepared by the authors for the Freedom Summer 1964 50th Anniversary Conference held at USM, each derived from their respective collections. A digital exhibit using twenty-two images from the Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs Collection ran as a three-minute continuous loop on large screen monitors at the conference venue. Another forty-three images (mostly from the same collection) were on physical display in the lobby of Cook Library at USM. The exhibit showed books, photographs, and items that related to Freedom Summer from initial training for volunteers in Oxford, Ohio, through Mississippi activities that included voter registration, election activities, and especially the Freedom Schools. The WHS exhibit called Risking Everything, also at the conference, displayed forty photographs from the MFDP filmstrip and other collections. It told the story of Freedom Summer through facsimiles of images, manuscripts, and e phemera. Archivists and historians are both blessed and challenged with a multitude of visual images taken at the time of these historic events. The challenge is to select compelling but informative images to represent a number of activities and people, especially for general audiences beyond the more intensive researcher. [End Page 52]
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Michael Edmonds is deputy director of the library-archives division of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Since 2001, his principal responsibility has been to digitize and share the Society’s manuscripts, rare books, and images on the Web. The most recent such project is the civil rights archive at http://wisconsinhistory.org/freedomsummer, which is accompanied by a traveling exhibit and a documentary anthology called Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader (WHS P, 2014). He holds degrees from Harvard University and Simmons College and taught in the University of Wisconsin School of Library and Information Studies.
Stephen Haller served in archives management positions for more than thirty years at non-profit organizations and historical societies in three states before becoming curator of historical manuscripts and archives for The University of Southern Mississippi in 2013. He was most recently senior director of collections and library at the Indiana Historical Society, and prior to that served as director of archives and records at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He received his bachelor of arts and master of arts in history from Miami University (Ohio).