Risk­ing Every­thing: A Free­dom Sum­mer Reader

Michael Edmonds, ed.
  • Review
By – November 20, 2014

The 1964 Mis­sis­sip­pi Free­dom Sum­mer project involved over 1,500 most­ly white, most­ly North­ern col­lege stu­dents work­ing for civ­il rights. Young, ide­al­is­tic Jews were high­ly rep­re­sent­ed. They worked as teach­ers at Free­dom Schools edu­cat­ing black Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans and attempt­ed to reg­is­ter black Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans to vote. Doing both of these tasks proved dan­ger­ous for the white and black vol­un­teers orga­nized by the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Co­ordinating Com­mit­tee (SNCC). Many black Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans suf­fered impris­on­ment, beat­ing, fir­ing, or mur­der just for reg­is­ter­ing to vote. Risk­ing Every­thing: A Free­dom Sum­mer Read­er edit­ed by Michael Edmonds is a com­pilation of SNCC doc­u­ments archived at the Wis­con­sin His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety released on the 50th anniver­sary of the project togeth­er with a trav­el­ing exhibition. 

Just as the project began, three civ­il rights work­ers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan while inves­ti­gat­ing a black church burn­ing. Two of those three men, Mick­ey Schw­ern­er and Andrew Good­man, were Jew­ish. The book is divid­ed into sev­en sec­tions: Before Free­dom Sum­mer; Debates, Prepa­ra­tions, Train­ing; Oppo­si­tion and Vio­lence; Vot­er Reg­is­tra­tion; Free­dom Schools; The Mis­sis­sip­pi Free­dom Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty; and After Free­dom Sum­mer, a report by black reporter Louis Lomax, who researched and wrote a long arti­cle on the mur­ders of Chaney, Schw­ern­er, and Good­man, and 1964 Klan newslet­ter accus­ing Free­dom Sum­mer vol­un­teers of being Com­mu­nist inspired, if not direct­ly con­trolled by the Sovi­et Union. The hate group groused about integra­tion, pick­ing on Jews as much as blacks. 

The book is wor­thy for show­ing the com­pli­cat­ed orga­ni­za­tion that went into the mul­ti­fac­eted project on a large scale and on the small scale, and the day-to-day impres­sions of the vol­un­teers themselves. 

A let­ter home from Illi­nois stu­dent Robert Fein­glass cap­tures his encoun­ters with the pover­ty, fear, and oppres­sion of the Mis­sis­sip­pi res­i­dents: It is the most stim­u­lat­ing, sat­is­fy­ing work I have ever done. Noth­ing is ever enough; there is no such thing as a job fin­ished: there is only progress. We are involved here in a pro­cess of unit­ing, join­ing, becom­ing a mutu­al­ly inter­est­ed com­mu­ni­ty. The song says it well: we shall overcome.

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