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Monday, April 7, 2014

Memories of Freedom Summer

Activists reflect on the struggle for civil rights in the ’60s

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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other civil rights groups were instrumental in changing the face of American society during the 1960s. Largely student-based, these grassroots organizations tackled issues from the early Freedom Rides to Black Power, participating in sit-ins, demonstrations and non-violent protests throughout much of the South.

Six staff members who worked for these organizations will visit Milwaukee to share their experiences in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Mimi Feingold Real, one of the early Freedom Riders, was a CORE volunteer from 1961 to 1966; Alicia Kaplow coordinated SNCC activities at UW-Madison from 1963-1966; Bob and Vicki Gabriner participated in the 1963-64 Harlem rent strike; Leah Johnson Wise was a member of SNCC Atlanta and was instrumental in transforming the organization into a national force for Black Power; and Gwen Gillon Ozanne was a key member of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project.

These six panelists also all worked for the Wisconsin Historical Society and assisted in gathering the Society’s civil rights archives. Their story is told in an upcoming book, Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader, which relays the intriguing tale of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, when thousands of students descended on Mississippi to register voters and teach non-violence. The book by Michael Edmonds collects 44 original documents that provide deep insight into the struggle and danger that these young people faced in their attempt to overturn an unjust system. The panel will speak at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum (2620 W. Center St.) at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15. Admission is free.