This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Freedom Summer was a massive undertaking that sought to register as many African American voters in the state of Mississippi as possible. The groups behind Freedom Summer sought as many individuals, mainly students, to participate in the activities. These activities included voter registration, Freedom Schools, and community centers in Mississippi to encourage voter registration and education. It was without a doubt a dangerous job to take with 3 volunteers killed at the very start of Freedom Summer. Knowing that the 50th Anniversary was approaching I decided to see if I could find participants from West Tennessee. I found the following names listed on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.
1. Gloria Bishop – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Canton/Madison County, Mississippi Rural
2. Rev. Edward L Brown – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Clergy sponsored by the National Council of Churches
3. Ed Hamlett – Jackson, TN – Volunteer – White Community Project
4. James Nance – Trenton, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Hattiesburg, Mississippi
5. Jewelene Owens – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Jackson, Mississippi – Voter Registration
6. Gwendolyn Robinson – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Assigned to Laurel, Mississippi – Freedom Center
6. Rev. William SMith – Memphis, TN – Volunteer – Clergy sponsored by the National Council of Churches
I do not believe that the list provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society is conclusive. There certainly could have been more participants from West Tennessee as there were 1000+ volunteers. What is known is that these participating individuals were very brave to fight to secure the fundamental right to vote for African Americans in Mississippi. At the conclusion of the summer 1600 African Americans were successfully registered. While that may not seem like a large number it truly was given the type of place Mississippi was at the time. The next year in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which sought to protect individuals from discrimination at the voting polls.
Source – Wisconsin Historical Society