Freedom Summer 1964: Looking back with a new generation


Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
traditional song that became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s

Fifty years ago this month, the arduous efforts of civil rights advocates through the 50’s and 60’s coalesced in Mississippi as thousands organized to push for voting rights long-denied to African Americans.  Our nation’s work for equity and social justice goes on today, and the examples set by those who would not give up are treasured by ongoing generations of readers.  In their remarkable book, Oh, Freedom! Kids Talk about the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made it Happen,  Casey King and Linda Barrett Osborne share interviews that fourth graders conducted with family members and others who worked for justice during this time.

Starting with Oh, Freedom!, Seattle teacher Kay Yano built a unit on Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement so that her fifth-graders could also learn from — and be inspired by — this important time in our history.  Kay’s goal was “to draw students into the lives of some of the leading voices of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and to see that they were all ordinary people who saw injustice and felt moved to action from it.  I want students to understand that people just like us can rise up and do extraordinary things, and that when we work together, we are able to be change agents.  My hope is that students can find that place in themselves that resonates with these leaders and find the ability to be change agents too.”

A Sampling of Books about the Civil Rights Movement and Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; ill. by Jerome Lagarrigue.  Friendship defies racism for two boys in this stirring story of the “Freedom Summer” that followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now in a 50th Anniversary Edition with a refreshed cover and a new introduction. (Indiebound description)

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges.  This is a book written by Ruby Bridges herself!  She writes in her memoir about her experience, accompanied by Federal Marshals, of being a 6-year-old who became the first black student to attend her elementary school.  This book has articles that appeared in newspapers at the time and helps to create a context for her remarkable story of courage (Kay Yano description).

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Muñoz Ryan; ill. by Brian Selznick.  This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Marian Anderson, who was a gifted singer who was prevented from performing at the Metropolitan Opera and Constitution Hall because of discriminatory policies.  However, she was invited by President Roosevelt to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where she performed in front of an appreciative crowd of 75,000 people.  This performance opened doors for her and for others that had previously been closed. (Kay Yano description)

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni; ill. by Bryan Collier.  Rosa Parks’s story is told here, both her life leading up to the moment where she “sat down to stand up” for the African American community in Montgomery, Alabama.  The story then moves into the resulting bus boycott and some of concrete results of her actions of civil disobedience. (Kay Yano description)

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing Walk toward Freedom by Richard Michelson; ill. by Raul Colon Tells the parallel stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel (a Polish-born rabbi who fled Nazi Germany) and how they came together in the March To Montgomery.  It talks about the many influences and common experiences of oppression that both men faced and how they found commonality that helped to cement their alliance. (Kay Yano description)

Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer.  As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel COUNTDOWN award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place — and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what’s right. (Indiebound description)

Learn more about Deborah Wiles’ “60’s Trilogy” in MUF team member Laurie Beth Schneider’s interview with Deborah Wiles and her editor, David Levithan

Thank you to Kay Yano for sharing her unit ideas!

Katherine Schlick Noe teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. Her debut novel, Something to Hold (Clarion, 2011) won the 2012 Washington State Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award for middle grade/young adult and was named a 2012 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.  Visit her at http://katherineschlicknoe.com.

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