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By Daniel Lewis, ProQuest Product Manager
From November 13-16, 2014, members of the Southern Historical Association met in Atlanta, Georgia, for the organization’s 80th annual meeting. ProQuest sponsored a booth in the exhibit hall, and ProQuest employees attended the conference sessions. As always, attendance at the Southern Historical Association proved to be a great learning experience for us and a great opportunity to connect with our customers.
The conference included several sessions on the civil rights movement in 1964 and 1965, a topic of particular interest to the ProQuest employees who work on the History Vault product. As many of you are aware, ProQuest History Vault includes outstanding collections on the civil rights movement, highlighted by records of the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the FBI File on Martin Luther King, Jr.
[Photo: Declaration of Independence written by the students of St. John’s Methodist Church Freedom School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi]
One session, titled, “Fifty Long Years since the Long, Hot Summer: Remembering and Reflecting on 1964,” by Rebecca Miller Davis of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was up first. Her paper, “ ‘Whether We Like it or Not … We are Americans as well as Mississippians’: The Crumbling Closed Society in Response to Freedom Summer” was a fascinating look at how white Mississippians responded to the Freedom Summer. I was particularly struck by the facts of the 1963 Mississippi gubernatorial campaign, where Paul Johnson held a racist and segregationist stance, yet the campaign was followed by his more moderate inauguration speech, in 1964. His inaugural address received positive coverage in an editorial in The New York Times on January 21, 1964, by Claude Sitton (available in ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010).)
Although Johnson quickly reverted to his segregationist stance, Professor Davis pointed that the more consistent voices of moderation did exist in the Mississippi press, led by Hodding Carter III, and Hazel Brannon Smith. While most of Mississippi tried to downplay or totally ignore the murder of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, both Carter and Smith kept Freedom Summer in the headlines.
David Carter of Auburn University presented “Beyond the Earthen Dam: Mississippi’s Freedom Summer and the Consequences of Historical Memory.” Professor Carter examined media commemorations of Freedom Summer since 1964, with a special focus on 1984 and 1989. Professor Carter emphasized that these media treatments focused on the murders of the civil rights workers, while ignoring the crucial importance of the freedom schools, civil rights organizing, and the development of local leaders. Professor Carter’s comments about the Freedom Schools especially resonated with me, because I have recently been examining documentation on Freedom Schools in the SNCC Papers in ProQuest History Vault.
Claire Whitlinger, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, presented the third paper at the session. Her paper, “ ‘Mississippi Burning’: in American Memory: Then and Now,” studies how black and white Mississippians have remembered Freedom Summer. Commemorative events have been held at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Neshoba County every year, since the murders in 1964. In contrast, Whitlinger described a “conspiracy of silence” among white Mississippians regarding the murders of the civil rights workers during the 25 year span between 1964 and 1989.
Following the presentation of these three very interesting papers, Derek Catsam from the University of Texas-Permian Basin, and Francoise Hamlin of Brown University provided commentary on the papers. I was particularly struck by Professor Catsam’s comments about the resurgence of interest in Confederate History after 1954. He compared the public memory of our civil rights events to the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. South Africa was much more strict than anything that has taken place in the American South. During the question and answer period, the panelists and the audience wrestled with how to best present the history of Mississippi Freedom Summer to their students.
In my experience, as a student and as a ProQuest employee, I have seen how primary sources can help to make history more real for students. Reading the words of the people who shaped and participated in important moments in history like Freedom Summer tends to hit home emotionally and can be a powerful learning tool.
Librarians: Learn more about the primary source records on Freedom Summer in History Vault. And check out History & Political Science ebooks on Black and African American History and Studies: Civil Rights Movement, Black Abolitionist Papers, Black Studies Center, and Black Historical Newspapers.
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