Blow-by-blow account of the ghastly reception given the Freedom Summer volunteers who attempted to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964.
Journalist Watson (Sacco and Vanzetti, 2007, etc.) creates a complete picture of this decisive summer, from the makeup of the young students who risked their lives to volunteer to a comprehensive portrait of a nation on the brink of wrenching change in race relations. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had recruited across college campuses legions of white and black students eager to break open the deeply segregated “closed society” of Mississippi, with its entrenched obstacles to black voting. Trained briefly in Ohio and bused down to Mississippi by late June, the young, idealistic volunteers were well-informed about the white hostility and customary savagery perpetrated against blacks that they would face. However, the largely middle-class, well-educated students were not prepared for the scenes of poverty and destitution they encountered in black communities throughout the South. The disappearance in late June of three SNCC volunteers haunted their work that summer, and the incident serves as the book’s suspenseful propulsion. The discovery of their remains in early August—after an extended FBI hunt and national outcry—reinforced rather than deterred the volunteers’ conviction. Watson does a fine job portraying key participants, such as SNCC leaders Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as less-well-known events at the subsequent Atlantic City Democratic Convention in mid-August, where the 67 black Freedom Democrats of Mississippi insisted on being heard. Engaging but occasionally longwinded, Watson’s work is competently researched and contextually rich.
A moving record of the power of idealism.