GREENSBORO, NC – Fifty years ago, hundreds of college students went to Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, for a week-long training and orientation before deploying to Mississippi to register African Americans to vote. They were trained in how to survive and, at the same time, how to reach out to poor people in Mississippi who had given up on ever seeing any progress against systemic racial oppression and injustice.
That week, three Freedom Summer Organizers were murdered by sheriff deputies and the Ku Klux Klan outside of Philadelphia, Miss. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney had returned from Western College to Mississippi a day early to prepare the way. When the word came back that they were missing, Bob Moses called the hundreds of northern volunteers together and asked if anyone wanted to leave. No hands raised.
Fifty years later, several dozen college students met at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC, for a week-long orientation session starting June 9. They are now deploying to counties throughout North Carolina for deep organizing work and voter registration through the Forward Together Movement’s Moral Freedom Summer. Just as students in Mississippi will revive the mission of the 1964 Freedom Summer in their communities this June, so will students in North Carolina.
Moral Freedom Summer brings together people from across the state, the NC NAACP, NC NAACP Youth & College Division and scores of organizational partners, including the Beloved Community Center, Democracy North Carolina, Equality North Carolina, Farm Laborer Organizing Committee, Freedom Center for Social Justice, Raise Up for 15 Campaign, SpiritHouse, Student Power Union, and Southerners on New Ground to honor this historic moment and to deepen our coalition-building in all 100 counties in the state.
“These young people will bring their hope, their great educations and their spirit to hundreds of local communities this summer in order to deepen public understanding of the need for a moral movement that dismantles the racism deeply embedded in our society and that lifts all of us, particularly the least of these, to higher ground,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the NC NAACP. “Let us all pray that this Moral Freedom Summer will be a rewarding experience for these wonderful young activists and the people they get to know.”
The Moral Freedom Summer organizers concluded their training in Greensboro on June 14 and were announced formally by the Forward Together Moral Movement at the Mass Moral Monday in Raleigh on June 16. They will now travel to their respective placements throughout the state and begin the hard but gratifying work of building power in communities that are often marginalized.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling to be building upon such an amazing legacy and be involved in work that is deeply rooted in southern organizing strategies,” Moral Freedom Summer organizer Holden Cession said. “The work in Mississippi could not have been done without the energy and resilience of young people. Their passion for changing society helped to mobilize folks to register and vote – even though they were facing violence, intimidation and extreme voter suppression.”
Moral Freedom Summer’s work dovetails with the Forward Together Movement’s Mass Mobilization campaign to register, educate and turn out voters for the 2014 elections and beyond. The NC NAACP will be working in the streets, in the courts, in the media and at the ballot box this summer and fall to ensure that North Carolinians are educated, engaged and able to make their voice heard on Nov. 4.
The Moral Freedom Summer organizers came to Greensboro from different backgrounds, but they stand united behind the importance of their work with NC voters and communities as they ended their sessions with a call for a state-wide commitment to change: “Forward Together! Not One Step Back!”