On a sunny October morning in 1967, Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price waved to crowds of supporters as they strode toward the granite courthouse in Meridian. Wearing suits and fedoras instead of cowboy hats and police uniforms, both men looked more like salesmen than “the law.” Rainey still had a chaw in his cheek but horn-rimmed glasses made him seem less the caricature of a southern sheriff. Price, who had lost his recent run to succeed Rainey, smiled softly at rows of clicking cameras. Both men, along with the sixteen others about to be tried with them, seemed in high spirits, confident that no jury of their peers would convict them. In the thirty-three months it had taken to bring the Neshoba murder case to trial, Price and Rainey had toured the South. Appearing before cheering Klansmen, the two lawmen had become symbols of the dying Civil War revanchism the Klan was still dragging through the dirt. Now, as they reached the courthouse door, a cheer went up across the street. A Confederate flag had been hoisted.
The ensuing years had seen violence in Mississippi wax and wane. Yet whenever white rage exploded, it strengthened the Mississippi movement and hastened the future. One dark night in January 1966, the gentle Hattiesburg farmer Vernon Dahmer, whom volunteers remembered for his Fourth of July picnic during Freedom Summer, was brutally murdered. When Klansmen threw flaming jugs of gasoline into Dahmer’s home, Hattiesburg’s local hero stood in the blaze, firing back at his assailants, allowing his wife and children to escape. Consumed by fire and bullets, Dahmer died the next day. Yet as a signal of how things were changing, Mississippi style, Governor Johnson denounced “these vicious and morally bankrupt criminals,” and within months, the FBI charged fifteen men with Dahmer’s murder. Among the accused was the soft-spoken businessman who had issued the order to get “Goatee,” Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers.
The following June, James Meredith returned to Mississippi vowing to march from Memphis to Jackson to encourage voter registration. Meredith was just inside the Mississippi border on his one-man “March Against Fear” when he was ambushed by shotgun. His wounds were superficial but the outrage drew civil rights leaders from across the country. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and others came to Mississippi to continue Meredith’s march, steering it through the heart of the Delta, drawing thousands who walked, sang, and registered.
In October 1966, after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the Neshoba murder case, the defense came up with another twist. The grand jury, it seemed, had been all white. Again the case was postponed until a new grand jury could hand down more indictments. This time the list included the Klan’s gentlemanly, homicidal Imperial Wizard. By then, Mississippi was deeply divided on the case that had brought it national shame. The state still refused to press murder charges, yet many hoped justice would come in federal court. Just as many, however, continued to see the defendants as heroes standing up for the sovereignty of their embattled state. Even as the FBI sent more undercover agents to infiltrate the Klan, Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Price attended fund-raising dinners among hundreds eager to back a desperate defense of Jim Crow. By the time their trial on “civil rights violations” finally began, after three years of preparation, appeals, and dismissals, it was remarkably short.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Harold Cox, the notorious racist who had ranted against “niggers on a voting drive,” sat before a huge mural depicting Mississippi history, including slaves picking cotton. Cox was silent as prosecutor John Doar led informants through the same stories they had told the FBI—of Klansmen armed with the “elimination” order, of “Preacher” Killen convening the lynch mob, of cars chasing “Goatee,” pulling the three over, taking them to Rock Cut Road. But the judge soon served notice of how things were changing. Early in the trial, a defense attorney questioned a black minister. Hadn’t Michael Schwerner advocated “the burning of draft cards” ? Wasn’t he an atheist? Hadn’t he tried to “to get young Negro males to sign statements that they would rape one white woman a week during the hot summer of 1964 here in Mississippi”? Judge Cox had heard enough. “Who is the author of that question?” he snapped. Preacher Killen, who had suggested it to lawyers, meekly raised his hand.
“I’m not going to allow a farce to be made of this trial,” Cox said. The accused donned straight faces, yet continued to joke and smirk during recesses. All were stunned, however, when the Imperial Wizard’s most trusted aide stepped into the witness box to testify for the prosecution.
Delmar Dennis, a tall, stalwart Methodist minister, had joined the Klan because it was “a white, Christian, militant organization dedicated to states’ rights, segregation, and the preservation of the white civilization.” At his swearing in, Preacher Killen had warned Dennis, “You ain’t joined no Boy Scout group,” but murder did not set well with the minister’s conscience. In October 1964, Dennis had given the FBI enough inside information to fill forty pages. Now, he sat with fists clenched, quoting Klansman after Klansman. Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers on the killings: “It was the first time that Christians had planned and carried out the execution of Jews.” Preacher Killen: “He said . . . people would need to be beaten and occasionally there would have to be elimination.”
“What did he mean by elimination? ”
“He meant killing a person.”
Eight lawyers rose to defend the accused and, by proxy, Mississippi. Delmar Dennis was “a Judas witness” who “instead of thirty pieces of silver . . . got $15,000!” The FBI’s tactics had resembled the Soviet system, “neighbors informing on neighbors.” More than a hundred witnesses swore to seeing the defendants late that Father’s Day evening. Preacher Killen had been at a funeral home. Triggerman Wayne Roberts was with his aunt, playing canasta. The accused were “salt of the earth kind of people . . . as innocent and pure as the driven snow.” Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers was “in church every time the doors are open.” But Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were “low-class riffraff. . . . Mississippians rightfully resent some hairy beatnik from another state visiting our state with hate and defying our people.” As for the murders, “It may well be that these young men were sacrificed by their own kind for publicity or other reasons.”
Summing up, John Doar sought to defuse lingering resentment of “the invasion”: “The federal government is not invading Philadelphia or Neshoba County, Mississippi. . . . These defendants are tried for a crime under federal law in a Mississippi city, before a Mississippi federal judge, in a Mississippi courtroom.” But the defense tapped resentments as old as Confederate culture. “The strong arm of the federal government” had come to Mississippi to prove “that there is a group of people here in Mississippi so filled with that hate that they conspire together . . . to do away and murder outsiders.” Would the tired old bitterness still work? Even if the charge was a “civil rights violation,” could a Mississippi jury convict “good ol’ boys” of killing two “outsiders” and a “nigger” ?
While the jury deliberated, the defendants yucked it up in the hallway. Only Sam Bowers seemed concerned, smoking and brooding on his own. When the jury deadlocked, the judge ordered them back into deliberation. Finally, a verdict was reached. When read to the court, it left Klansmen visibly shaken. Seven men—Bowers, Roberts, Price, and four others—were found guilty. Seven more, including Sheriff Rainey, were acquitted. A hung jury was declared for four, including Edgar Ray Killen. Claiming she “could never convict a preacher,” a Meridian secretary had been the lone juror defending the organizer of the lynch mob. For the next two months, jurors’ homes were guarded. Many received death threats. Crosses blazed in their hometowns. But in late December 1967, Judge Cox sentenced Wayne Roberts and Sam Bowers to ten years, the rest to three to six. “They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man,” the judge declared. “I gave them all what I thought they deserved.”
Outside the courtroom, an onlooker called the verdict “the best thing that’s ever happened to justice in Mississippi.” In Manhattan, Carolyn Goodman hailed the “landmark decision.” Nathan Schwerner hoped Mississippi would soon bring murder charges. Fannie Lee Chaney remarked, “They did better than I thought they would.” After two years of appeals, the convicted went to federal prison in 1970. The case marked the first time since Reconstruction that any white had been convicted of civil rights violations in Mississippi, yet the state still had a generation to travel down the long arc of justice.
Shortly after his Civil Rights Act passed during Freedom Summer, Lyndon Johnson had summoned Nicholas Katzenbach to the Oval Office. “I want you to write me the goddamn best, toughest voting rights act that you can devise,” the president said. Throughout spring and summer of 1965, Congress debated the act. Several congressmen invoked the names Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, urging passage “to insure that they did not die in vain.” Signed into law that August, the Voting Rights Act abolished literacy tests, authorized federal supervision of elections in seven southern states, and required those states to get federal approval for any changes in voting laws. By the end of 1965, 60 percent of Mississippi’s blacks were registered voters. Getting their leaders into office, however, was another matter.
Jim Crow was always based on privilege and power as much as hatred. Mississippi could not hold back the tide of law, but it could enact a new round of legislative voodoo. Responding to the Voting Rights Act, the state legislature passed a dozen bills curbing black political power. City and county elections suddenly became “at-large,” allowing white votes to dilute black votes. School superintendents became appointees. Getting on the ballot became tougher, requiring ten times as many signatures. And the Delta’s “black belt,” a single congressional district for as long as anyone could remember, was carved into three bloated districts aptly resembling pigs at a trough.
In 1967, 108 blacks ran for office in Mississippi. Just twenty-two were elected, most to low-level county positions. A lone black entered the all-white legislature. For the next few years, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged every new voting law, and in 1969, theirs and similar challenges reached the Supreme Court. By a 7-2 margin, the court invalidated all efforts to dilute black votes. The Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, should have “the broadest possible scope.” But as with the Brown ruling, compliance would take a decade or more. In 1972, two-thirds of all blacks in Mississippi could vote, yet just 2.7 percent of state officials were black.
Throughout the 1970s, while Mississippi’s politicians patched their leaky “wall of Never,” ordinary people changed the state. Not by fiat and no longer at a shotgun standoff, white and black slowly came together. Most found that, in hailing from that unique place called Mississippi, they had something in common. “After Freedom Summer,” said Batesville publisher John Howell, a teenager in 1964, “we met black people who, when we got over our grudge at them for having the audacity to want to do things like vote and go to decent schools, were, almost without exception, such sweet and forgiving people.” Bigotry did not disappear, but each act of kindness, each common concern helped southern hospitality melt age-old hostilities. No one can pinpoint a date or time, but at some point “boy” no longer referred to a black man. Titles of respect were bestowed on white and black. And sidewalks, though no wider than before, had room for black and white, sometimes side by side.
When Panola County pioneer Robert Miles ran for county supervisor, he lost a run-off but was stunned when a white man handed him fifty dollars to help take blacks to the polls. “I never dreamed I’d live to see such a day,” Miles said. Medgar Evers’s brother was elected mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, the state’s first black mayor since Reconstruction. “Hands that picked cotton can now pick the mayor,” Charles Evers said. A few years into his term, Evers got the backing of a former Klan leader. “I count Mayor Evers as a friend now and I have a lot of respect for the man,” E. L. McDaniel said. “We realized it’s not blacks against whites, but the little folks against the big shots.” Ten years after the Ole Miss riots, students elected a black football player as “Colonel Rebel,” the university’s top sports honor. Another first came in 1977 when Unita Blackwell, Muriel Tillinghast’s pupil, became Mississippi’s first black female mayor. Blackwell remained mayor until 1997, eventually winning a MacArthur genius grant and addressing the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
As school busing battles tore apart Boston and other cities, Mississippi schools did their own dance around integration. “Seg academies” continued to flourish, but whites who could not gain admission and those unafraid of “mixing” sat beside blacks in public schools. Cafeterias remained self-segregated, but in locker rooms, in hallways, at pep rallies, black and white talked, sometimes fought, and discovered they could get along. Lyndon Johnson had predicted as much during Freedom Summer. “I can’t make people integrate but maybe we can make them feel guilty if they don’t,” he had told an aide. “And once that happens, and they find out the jaws of hell don’t open, and fire and brimstone doesn’t flood down on them, then maybe they’ll see just how they have been taken advantage of.”
Late in 1979, the Mississippi legislature finally obeyed the U.S. Supreme Court. The Delta again became one congressional district. Hundreds of blacks were elected as mayors, city councilmen, and state legislators. In 1986, Mike Espy became Mississippi’s first black congressman since Reconstruction, and the following year, a black woman was crowned Miss Mississippi. Throughout the 1990s, black political power steadily grew, giving Mississippi more black elected officials than any other state. At the time of this writing, 28 percent of the legislature is black, and the list of cities run by black mayors reads like a tour of Freedom Summer: McComb, Jackson, Hattiesburg, Itta Bena, Greenville, Greenwood, Holly Springs, Ruleville, Drew. . . . In 2009, even Philadelphia, Mississippi, elected a black mayor. Today, the Mississippi Delta still holds America’s deepest pockets of poverty. Black income there remains just over half that of local whites, and in Greenwood or Greenville, as in towns throughout Mississippi, railroad tracks still demarcate stark differences in housing, education, and living standards. Yet in any town from Biloxi north to the Tennessee border, one can enter a café and see whites and blacks talking in ways one rarely sees farther north. And no one taken into custody has to fear the sheriff, his deputies, or the terror the night used to bring. But is Mississippi’s racial progress more than skin-deep?
“The Promised Land is still far off,” Hodding Carter III observed. “Black folks are still on the outside, looking in when it comes to jobs, equal education, housing, etc. But here, sadly enough, that does not much distinguish Mississippi from the rest of the country. What did distinguish us—racism red of fang and claw, in the saddle and riding hard—no longer prevails. What is in the hearts of individuals is one thing; how they now find they must operate in public is another. We are talking about fundamental change, which has left the state still far from the mountaintop, but it has been climbing for some time. It may go sideways from time to time, but it isn’t going back.”
Poet Margaret Walker Alexander agreed: “I believe that despite the terrible racist image Mississippi has had in the past, despite her historic reputation for political demagoguery, despite racial violence and especially lynching, despite all the statistics about being on the bottom, Mississippi, and especially urban Mississippi, offers a better life for most black people than any other state in which I have lived or visited.”
In just a generation, Mississippi had progressed so far that its children were shocked by stories from the recent past. In 1984, when a former activist told kids about having to duck down in integrated cars, the kids gasped. “Not in Mississippi!” some said. But as Mississippi shed its past, would anyone dare to dredge up the horrors of Freedom Summer?
After the savage season, volunteers had gone separate ways—careening through the 1960s, then settling into the rest of their lives. Tenth and twentieth anniversaries of Freedom Summer passed but no one had the energy to mend a broken circle of trust. In 1989, however, feelers went out, and dozens of volunteers came to the first full reunion. Meeting in Philadelphia, they visited the rebuilt Mt. Zion Church and heard Mississippi’s attorney general formally apologize to the families of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. It was a short reunion, but the healing had begun. Five years later, nearly four hundred volunteers descended on Mississippi and no one spoke of an invasion.
At the airport in Jackson, a banner read “Welcome Homecoming 1964- 1994.” On this thirtieth anniversary, most veterans were returning to Mississippi for the first time. After comparing lives, sharing photos of children and grandchildren, crossing hands for tearful renditions of Freedom Songs, volunteers boarded buses. Back at their old sites, few could believe this was, in fact, Mississippi. The sight of black cops startled them. Holly Springs’ black mayor gave volunteers the key to the city. Freedom School teachers met former students, learning of their college degrees and political offices. Beneath the surface, however, bigotry still seethed. Visiting James Chaney’s grave, volunteers found it vandalized. Ben Chaney, a civil rights activist, told them, “There has not been meaningful change in Mississippi.” Many agreed; others took their doubts deep into communities where they had once lived. The poverty was still painful, but reunions with white-haired hosts soothed spirits. Yet even though Mississippi had recently convicted Medgar Evers’s assassin, many “ghosts of Mississippi” remained.
It took Fran O’Brien twenty-five years to exorcise the demons of that single summer night. In June 1965, still repressing the Klan beating, finding memories of Mississippi “rosier and rosier,” she had returned to Vicksburg. She found her old Community Center in rubble and her project running on a shoestring. Fran hoped to teach former students, but she had “stepped into a hornet’s nest.” The statewide power struggle over child care sent her from COFO to Head Start and back again. After four weeks, she went home to southern California. That fall, she entered grad school and, in 1967, began teaching in California’s central valley.
During her first spring in the classroom, Martin Luther King was killed. Overhearing kids say, “It’s a good thing they got that Communist,” Fran decided to speak to them. “I told them that Martin Luther King was not a Communist and I knew because I had met him.” She spoke about the civil rights movement as a veteran. She spoke as she would continue to speak to children all her life. But decades would pass before she could speak about all of what happened that summer.
As the terror buried itself deeper, any talk of civil rights gave Fran nightmares. When she watched slaves flogged during the TV miniseries Roots, she woke up screaming. But in 1989, after attending the first Freedom Summer reunion, she sat down to write and the horror came pouring out. “It had been a rather quiet summer in Vicksburg . . .” Writing about the beating allowed Fran to face down fear and humiliation, but after a lifetime of empathy, she could not bring herself to blame the Klan. “One might as well hold a skunk morally accountable for spraying or a rattlesnake for striking,” she wrote. Fran’s “Journey into Light” was later published in an anthology of writings about Freedom Summer.
Though she worked her entire life with children, Fran never married—“I never really had the time”—nor had children of her own. Before retiring, she taught for thirty-four years, usually in classrooms for physically or mentally handicapped kids. In her students’ struggle for acceptance, she found parallels to the civil rights movement. Over the years, she nurtured a devout Christian faith that she cannot imagine living without. This quiet, gentle woman lives alone in a small house on a hillside near Bakersfield, California. None of her neighbors suspects she was once part of the summer that changed even their own attitudes about race and freedom.
In his final nine months in Indianola, Fred Winn faced an explosive violence that escalated all winter and into the spring. Arrested five times, hounded by his draft board, targeted by local whites, Fred somehow survived, but relentless pressure led to drastic moves. In February 1965, suddenly classified 1-A and in no mood to fight for the country whose racism he was confronting, he took a female coworker to Greenville and married her. The wedding was a joke, with the “flowers” just grass yanked from outside the church, and a cold kiss. “Yes, I know it sounds a bit wild,” he wrote his father. “It was the only thing I could do to get out.” The marriage would be annulled later that year, but the wedding—and Fred’s arrest record—kept the draft at arm’s length. Nothing, however, could tamp down Indianola’s surging violence.
In March 1965, a Molotov cocktail burned the Freedom School to the ground. Several who had been living in the school crammed into Irene Magruder’s house, forcing Fred to sleep in her living room. All continued working on a new voting drive. Come April, the drive became a rush when Sunflower County was slapped with a federal injunction and three hundred blacks were registered. Many stood outside the courthouse, hugging and crying. “I was so glad I wanted to holler ‘Freedom,’ ” one old woman said. The payback came swiftly.
On May 1, Fred fell asleep on Irene Magruder’s couch. At 2:30 a.m., a woman came out of the kitchen screaming “Fire!” In the rush of smoke and panic, Fred grabbed a fire extinguisher but it was like a squirt gun against the flames. He helped Mrs. Magruder stagger from her burning home, then remembered what he had left inside. Racing into the blazing building, he grabbed the project’s account books and his father’s Bible. By the time he reached the lawn again, the house was engulfed. Firemen stood by, watching. Word soon came from down the street. “They got Giles!” Giles Penny Saver, a store frequented by volunteers, was also burning. Fred grabbed a bicycle and rode to find Oscar Giles spraying the flames with a hose. From off in the distance, he saw another orange glow, and another. Fred rode to visit each fire, then returned to the Freedom House to alert Fannie Lou Hamer.
With his host home and school in ashes, Fred could no longer joke about Mississippi mud between his toes. Relations in the SNCC office were also smoldering, and Fred had thrown his own match by falling for another black girl. Janell was seventeen years old but told Fred she was eighteen. A few days after the fires, the bespectacled, mustachioed carpenter and his girlfriend began talking about leaving. They could get an apartment in San Francisco. They could get jobs, go to school, walk down the street holding hands, and no one would care. “Janell and I are coming home,” Fred wrote his father. “Yes, I know we had planned to stay until July, but I am tired. You might recall what battle fatigue was like during the war.” A week later, the couple took a bus to Memphis and a train to San Francisco.
Fred and Janell hoped to continue working for civil rights, but when they volunteered at a San Francisco agency, five black men listened to Fred’s tales from Freedom Summer, then said, “We don’t need you.” Fred was devastated. A fixture in Indianola’s black community, he now found himself an invader in his own city, isolated by rising black separatism. It was not long before blacks on his street would talk to Janell but not to him. Sensing the drift, he found work as a longshoreman. Janell got a job with the Economic Opportunity Commission. They moved to the Haight-Ashbury district but, separated by background and skin color, Janell “fell in with another crowd.” Feeling rejected not just by a woman but by the race he had befriended, Fred was crushed. “The fact that I went into dope and became a hippie doesn’t surprise me,” he remembered.
After studying education at San Francisco State, Fred found teaching jobs scarce, so he “took some time to fuck off.” He followed the culture and cannabis trail, bumming around Europe and Morocco, Colombia and Ecuador. When he finally returned to San Francisco, he took up the trade he had practiced in Mississippi—plumbing. He dropped “Fred” and began using his middle name, “Bright.” After serving his apprenticeship, Bright Winn set up his own business and has been a highly articulate plumber ever since. Twice married and twice divorced, a father of two, he still speaks regularly with the half sister whose birth split his family and sent him to Mississippi. His work during Freedom Summer cemented his relationship with the father he had barely known before 1964. And more than forty years after signing his letters “We Shall Overcome,” Bright Winn remains devoted to civil rights. “Someone asked me if I’m still active in the movement,” he remembered. “I said, ‘I hire people of color. I raised my children with certain strong beliefs about integration. I live the movement.’ ”
Muriel Tillinghast left Mississippi in 1965 but stayed with SNCC, working in Atlanta. In the fall of 1967, she returned to Howard University, doing grad studies in Mexican and Chinese history, but after Mississippi, she found Howard “too containing.” She moved on to Manhattan, working for SNCC and in various social programs. For years, she organized in Appalachia, eventually serving there as a presidential appointee under Jimmy Carter. Returning to Manhattan, she continued to apply the lessons of Mississippi throughout her life. “I was born with a fighting nature,” she says. “Even when I try not to be a fighter, the fight comes out. But I try to be earnest and honest. I’ve worked in prisons, Head Start, for immigrants, health rights—pretty much of everything.” In 1996, Muriel turned to politics, running as Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential candidate for the Green Party in New York. In 2004, she tapped her religious roots, becoming the manager of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. She currently lives in Brooklyn with two cats, a dog, and a turtle. Raising two daughters, she has spoken of Mississippi whenever possible. “It was like going to war,” she remembered. “A lot of veterans will tell you they don’t discuss war stories. But sometimes you have to—to let your children know, ‘That’s why we don’t do this in this family.’ Because of the way things were in Mississippi.”
During Chris Williams’s final months in Mississippi, the luck that got him through the summer ran out. In November, while canvassing a Panola County plantation, he was surrounded by raging whites threatening to throw him in the Tallahatchie River. The men settled for having Chris arrested. After two days in jail, he went right back to work. Throughout that fall and winter, Chris drove muddy backroads, spoke in churches, called registration meetings, and helped organize a co-op that earned farmers higher prices for okra. And in his spare time, he fell in love.
Two years older than Chris, Penny Patch had left Swarthmore College to work in Georgia, the first white female SNCC in the Deep South. She had come to Mississippi in January 1964 to run COFO’s book drive. In September, she moved to Batesville, where she began working on the farm co-op and discussing birth control with black women eager to avoid having child after child after child. Chris was not immediately smitten by the petite, short-haired brunette. He and Penny spent the fall in mutual avoidance, but by December, they noticed each other noticing each other and by the new year, they were inseparable. Walking together to host homes, returning together in the morning, they were soon known to locals as “Chrisnpenny.” It wasn’t long before they were talking about leaving Mississippi . . . someday . . . together. But neither felt like going home—to Massachusetts or New Jersey. Where would they go? And when? Mississippi answered the latter question for them.
One day in March, Chris and Penny sat in a car outside the courthouse in Batesville. The town’s first sit-in had whites in an uproar. Pickups circled the town square, their drivers waving guns, ax handles, and baseball bats. Suddenly several people spotted the clean-cut white couple. As they rushed the car, Penny frantically locked the doors. A snarling, screaming mob began rocking the old Pontiac. This was no college stunt, Chris realized. These people wanted to flip the car and drag them out. He gunned the engine but the car was trapped between pickups. The rocking continued, lifting the hood higher and higher. Finally, the pickup in front pulled away and Chris hit the accelerator.
A few days later, Chris was sitting downtown when four men bolted from a pickup. He barely had time to roll into a ball before they began kicking him. Robert Miles decked one man with a haymaker punch, sending the attackers fleeing, leaving Chris with a three-inch gash in his forehead. The next evening, Chris and Penny were in Miles’s living room, watching TV, breathing again. Suddenly the front window shattered. Chris shoved Penny to the floor as buckshot lodged in the wall. Chris was soon taking his turn on the Mileses’ all-night vigil, holding a rifle.
The mob, the beating, the shooting, left Chris more shaken than hurt, but Mississippi was no longer an “adventure.” “I felt I’d given it a good shot,” he remembered. “I had been involved in lot of different parts of it, I’d met extraordinary people, and maybe this was as far as it went.” Late that summer, Chris and Penny got a ride in a VW bus taking them out of Mississippi, but they did not head north. This was a different America, seemingly a different decade, and they wanted to be at the heart of it. By the fall of 1965, they were living in Berkeley. Penny, feeling “ragged and lost,” certain her years in the civil rights movement had come to nothing, took classes while Chris worked as a carpenter. He later studied agriculture at UC Davis and worked with César Chávez and the United Farmworkers of America. But before he could finish a degree, he and Penny heard the sixties’ next call.
In the spring of 1967, the couple moved “back to the land.” In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where they had purchased one hundred acres, Chris, Penny, and other civil rights veterans built a house, planted gardens, and lived far removed from the America they had given up on. But white-out winters made close quarters seem even closer. Although Chris and Penny married and had a son, the commitments that had brought them together in Mississippi could not keep them together. They split up in 1970, setting Chris adrift again. To Jamaica. To Manhattan. To the edge of despair. Wherever he went, he kept designing, building, and in 1974, he began studying architecture at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Married again and with two kids, Chris spent the 1980s as an architect in Manhattan. Then in 1989, he became director of architectural services at Williams College in western Massachusetts. Twenty-five years after hitch-hiking south, he had come home. And there he remains. Every now and then, as he looks toward retirement, Chris finds himself checking on the Internet for houses in Panola County. He wonders what it would be like to live there—“Mississippi without fear”—if only for a few years. Mississippi is a part of him in ways he could never have expected when he left high school to spend a summer there. “Other people went to Vietnam and that impacted their lives,” he said, “but Mississippi was the thing in my life that has resonated down through the years. I’m very clear that the person who got the most out of it was me. I feel grateful every day to have been part of it.”
Individual cameos vary, but taken as a group, Freedom Summer volunteers appear, as they did on arrival in Ohio, as a group portrait of American idealism. Almost without exception, the lives they led after their Mississippi summer have been as principled as the season itself. Whether they steered the sixties or were steered by them, a majority remained involved in social causes. Freedom School teachers continued to teach—many in college. Dozens of volunteers, having seen Jim Crow justice, became attorneys fighting for the poor. Others became full-time activists, running nonprofit agencies. And several became writers, including feminist Susan Brownmiller, Mother Jones cofounder Adam Hochschild, memoirist Sally Belfrage, and Village Voice reporter Paul Cowan and his brother Geoff.
As with any group, there were fringes, some dangerous. Dennis Sweeney, having suffered a concussion and frequent arrests in McComb, descended into paranoid schizophrenia. Voices in his head caused Sweeney to gouge dental crowns from his teeth. But the voices did not cease. On a March day in 1980, Sweeney took a gun and entered the Manhattan office of Allard Lowenstein, the “Pied Piper” who had brought Sweeney and other volunteers to the 1963 Freedom Election. Sweeney emptied his gun, killing his former mentor. Found not guilty for reasons of insanity, Sweeney was confined to a mental hospital. Twenty years after the murder, psychiatrists, noting his recovery, released him from all care.
During the Reagan era, sociologist Doug McAdam found ex-volunteers increasingly restless. Many remained searchers, moving from job to job or relationship to relationship, looking for what one called “the ultimate Mississippi.” McAdam also found volunteers, when compared to a national average, more likely to be loners, unmarried or divorced. Just a handful, having seen the stuff democracy is made of, had entered politics. Harold Ickes, son of a member of FDR’s Brain Trust, went from Freedom Summer to law school and then into Democratic Party politics. Ickes later became President Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and ran Hillary Clinton’s campaigns for Senate and the presidency. Barney Frank has been a Massachusetts congressman since 1980. Of Freedom Summer, he spoke for many volunteers: “I am prouder of being there than of anything else in my life.”
No less than those they recruited, the leaders of Freedom Summer were transformed by its hope and violence. A few months after the summer ended, Bob Moses began a painful withdrawal from Mississippi. Late in 1964, disdaining what James Forman called the “almost Jesus like aura that he and his name had acquired,” Moses changed his surname to Parris, his mother’s maiden name. The following spring, he and Dona moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where they worked with young black students. Soon Moses was in Washington, D.C., speaking out against the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1965, he briefly returned to Africa, where, appalled by American propaganda about the progress of blacks back home, he cut off all contact with whites. Drawn back to Mississippi, he lived again with Amzie Moore in the Delta, but Moore found his protégé bitter and withdrawn.
Although he had filed as a conscientious objector and proven his pacifism daily, Moses got his draft notice in 1966. With his marriage crumbling, his hopes shattered, Moses fled to Montreal, where he worked as a janitor, a night watchman, an airline cook. He also married a former SNCC field secretary. In 1968, Bob and Janet Moses moved to Tanzania, where they taught in a rural school and raised four children. They stayed eight years, returning only when President Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to draft evaders. Moses went back to Harvard to finish the doctorate he had been forced to abandon. Then one day, he visited his daughter’s algebra class. Concerned that inner-city students were falling behind in math, he began devising ways to involve them in his favorite subject. With help from a MacArthur genius grant, Moses’ lessons grew into the Algebra Project.
Moses has since turned the Algebra Project into a continuation of his life’s work. He crafted a clever curriculum using subway trips to model number lines, and lemonade recipes to teach ratios. By 1990, he was traveling all over America, even back to Mississippi to work with teachers and organize parents too often dismissive of math. “Like working with sharecroppers demanding the right to vote, we’re trying to get students demanding quality public education in algebra,” he says. After several years of commuting from Massachusetts to Mississippi, Moses is currently an Eminent Scholar at Florida International University in Miami. In his seventies now, bearded and white-haired, Moses still speaks at math and civil rights conferences around the country. He remains an unforgettable presence to all who have known him. No living American has risked more or done more to make America a full democracy.
Wherever he speaks, Moses mentions Fannie Lou Hamer as an icon of empowerment, but the woman everyone called Mrs. Hamer did not share in the gains she helped Mississippi blacks achieve. Though she kept running for office and speaking out—even addressing the 1968 Democratic Convention—Hamer was soon marginalized by younger activists. She also suffered personal losses and failing health. In 1967, her daughter was injured in a car crash and, denied treatment in the Delta, died en route to a Memphis hospital. Still grieving, Hamer threw herself into child development programs and was quickly embroiled in their acrimonious politics. She worked on Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign and later started her own pig farm to help sharecroppers. But the blackjack beating she had taken in Winona, Mississippi, compounded by a lifetime of poor nutrition and stress, took its toll. Gradually confined to her home, she gave away her last few dollars and died in 1977, penniless. By then, however, she was more spirit than flesh. Her funeral drew a thousand people, including dignitaries from President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Mourners sang “This Little Light of Mine.” The Mississippi legislature, still overwhelmingly white, passed a unanimous resolution commending her. Today, anyone entering Ruleville sees the ornate sign reading “Home of Fannie Lou Hamer,” but her grave-stone best sums up her strength. Beneath the sadly shortened lifespan—1917-1977—is her motto: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Long after Freedom Summer had changed Mississippi, the rest of America refused to notice. Movies and TV rehashed stale stereotypes—the fat sheriff, bloodhounds and chain gangs, the rope and the shotgun. So when the Hollywood film Mississippi Burning came out in 1988, dramatizing the Freedom Summer murders and investigation, it managed to offend everyone. Former volunteers and SNCCs were outraged to see FBI agents portrayed as heroes rather than the bystanders they had been before LBJ ordered them into the swamps. Blacks appeared powerless. And whites complained that the film showed them at their worst. When would America move beyond its stereotypes of Mississippi? Such a day would come only when Mississippi erased the darkest blot on its name.
On the twentieth anniversary of the Neshoba killings, Philadelphia’s mayor observed, “To me, it was sort of like a plane crash. It was just a part of history that happened near Philadelphia, and there’s nothing we could do to erase it.” There was something Philadelphia could do, however, yet the wheels of justice refused to turn. The final redemption began only in 1998, when word leaked of what the Klan’s Imperial Wizard, finally convicted of the Vernon Dahmer murder after four mistrials, had said about his most famous “elimination.” “I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man,” Sam Bowers said. The “main instigator” was “Preacher” Killen, and hearing of Bowers’s boast, the families of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney called for the case to be reopened. Early in 1999, Mississippi’s attorney general began investigating.
The investigation dragged on for five years. Jackson Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell dug up new witnesses who had heard Killen discuss the murders. Lawyers plowed through the FBI’s 44,000-page file and the 1967 trial transcript. Meanwhile, key witnesses were dying. Cecil Price, said to be cooperating with the prosecution, fell from a cherry picker. Lawrence Rainey, who after his 1967 acquittal never worked in law enforcement again, died of throat cancer. Two others among the accused also passed away, leaving just eight still living. The most visible was “The Preacher.” Fortunately for investigators, he had a big mouth.
“Had I done it,” Killen said of the Neshoba murders, “I wouldn’t have any regrets.” Others reported hearing “The Preacher” preach the righteousness of the Klan’s most notorious killing. “I’m not going to say they were wrong,” Killen said in 2004. “I believe in self-defense.” That September, the Philadelphia Coalition, an interracial group formed to lobby for further prosecutions, invited Carolyn Goodman and brothers of Michael Schwerner and James Chaney to meet with townspeople. In an emotional encounter, clergymen, high school students, and businessmen told of growing up under the stigma of 1964 and urged Mississippi’s new attorney general to file murder charges. The following January, police arrested Killen in his home.
On June 12, 2005, Philadelphia, Mississippi, awoke to find dozens of cable news trucks surrounding its courthouse. Townspeople were divided on the impending trial. “It was what I’d been wanting and what I’d been praying here for years,” said Deborah Ray Posey, a member of the Philadelphia Coalition. But another resident complained, “The media has profited for four decades by smearing Neshoba County and Mississippi. I ask, ‘When is enough enough?’ ” Despite misgivings, the trial spread word that Mississippi had long since ceased to be a closed society. Civil rights historical markers were—and still are—occasionally vandalized, and some older whites spoke of Freedom Summer as that time when “Communists invaded the state of Mississippi,” yet reporters noted blacks and whites joking together, working together, sometimes even marrying. When the trial began, Philadelphia was again on front pages across America and Europe, but the little town no longer had anything to hide.
Just after 9:00 a.m., Edgar Ray Killen approached the courtroom in his wheelchair. Bald, bespectacled, disabled by a recent logging accident, he breathed through an oxygen tube. Before the trial reached its second day, he was hospitalized for shortness of breath, yet he remained “as strong for segregation as I ever was.” Simmering in his own bile, the bitter old man showed no emotion as he was wheeled to the defense table. In the gallery behind him sat Rita Schwerner Bender, Carolyn Goodman, and Ben and Fannie Lee Chaney. Forty-one years they had waited.
Mickey Schwerner’s widow had remarried, raised a family, and begun practicing law in Seattle, specializing in Restorative Justice, the movement uniting victims with their assailants to foster personal reconciliation. Andrew Goodman’s ninety-year-old mother still lived in the Upper West Side apartment decorated with photos of her lost son. After earning a doctorate in psychology, Carolyn Goodman had developed programs for families in psychiatric crisis. One day, she had opened the door of her apartment to find a man, speaking in a southern accent, asking forgiveness for his role in her son’s murder. “If you want my forgiveness,” she said, “work in your community and help other people. That way lies forgiveness.” The man left in silence.
Beside Goodman sat “J. E.’s” kid brother. Ben Chaney had grown into a tireless civil rights advocate, but only after surrendering to rage over his brother’s murder. Constantly threatened in Mississippi, the Chaneys had moved to New York in 1965, settling in with the help of the Goodmans and Schwerners. Ben seemed to be doing well at a private school, but shortly before his eighteenth birthday, he and friends headed south with a plot. Chaney was not even present at a Florida shootout that killed four whites, but he was sentenced to life in prison. After serving thirteen years, he was paroled with the help of former attorney general Ramsey Clark, who hired him as a law clerk. Chaney has held the same job ever since, doing civil rights work on the side. As head of the James Earl Chaney Foundation, Ben led the Freedom Summer 2004 Ride for Justice, a bus tour visiting civil rights sites, registering voters, and lobbying Mississippi to prosecute his brother’s killers. Fannie Lee Chaney worked as a maid in a nursing home before retiring. Learning of the impending trial, the eighty-two-year-old woman said only, “Mighty long time.” Now the time had arrived.
The past permeated the courtroom. One of Killen’s attorneys had defended Sheriff Rainey in 1967. The judge had first met Killen as a boy presiding over his parents’ funerals. Yet the present also held its ground. Many in the audience had not yet been born by 1964. The district attorney, a Philadelphia first-grader that year, just vaguely recalled the commotion. He had hoped to bring charges against all living members of the Neshoba klavern, but the grand jury had indicted only Killen. Now, as a jury of nine whites and three blacks looked on, he called the first witness—Rita.
While reporters typed on laptops, the freckled woman with close-cropped gray hair told of coming to Mississippi with her husband in 1964. Rita remembered bidding good-bye to Mickey in Ohio and never seeing him again. She remained composed until she recalled first hearing that the blue station wagon had been found, gutted and burned. That was when “it really hit me for the first time that they were dead.” Fannie Lou Hamer had been with her. “She just wrapped her arms around me and the two of us had our faces together and our tears were mingling with each other and we cried.” Some in the gallery wept. Later, a tearful Carolyn Goodman read the court her son’s postcard from Meridian—“This is a wonderful town, and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. . . .”
In between the grieving women, most evidence came from the dead—testimony read from witnesses long deceased. From the 1967 trial transcript, jurors heard of Killen telling his klavern about the “elimination” order, Killen gathering Klansmen, Killen siccing the men on their prey. Living witnesses added more details. A former Meridian cop recalled Killen telling him all about the murders. A convict in a prison jumpsuit recalled his grandfather asking Killen “if he had anything to do with those boys being killed, and he said ‘yes,’ and he was proud of it.” After three days, Fannie Lee Chaney, walking with a cane to the witness box, concluded the prosecution’s case. She remembered making breakfast that Sunday for the trio. Young Ben had cried as his brother prepared to leave. Her oldest son had promised his brother to take him out when he came back, but “J. E. never come back.”
Defense attorneys called on the alibi Killen had used in 1967. He had been at a funeral home that night, mourning for “old Uncle Alex Rich.” But Rich’s family claimed he was not related to Killen, and another witness said Killen had merely entered the funeral home and looked around. “I thought it was unusual because he wasn’t that close to the family.” Summing up, the defense called the trial “nothing but stirring a pot of hate for profit.” But Mississippi’s attorney general compared the Klan to terrorists in Iraq, then urged the jury, “Do your duty. Honor Mississippi. Honor Neshoba County.”
Jurors deliberated for an afternoon before telling the judge they were deadlocked. The judge ordered them to resume deliberation the next day—June 21. At 11:30 a.m., they filed back into the courtroom. Killen sat in a dark sport coat, his head shaking slightly as the verdict was read. On each of three counts, the jury found him guilty of manslaughter. Families hugged and fought back tears. Speaking for his mother, Ben Chaney said, “She believes the life of her son has value.” Rita Schwerner Bender was disgusted that the charge had been reduced to manslaughter but thanked the people of Neshoba County for bringing about this “day of great importance.” Killen was sentenced to sixty years. Released on bail pending appeal and his own complaints of poor health, he was soon seen driving around Neshoba County, flaunting his freedom. In August, an angry judge ordered him back to jail, where he remains.
Each June 21, as they have every Freedom Summer anniversary since 1965, dozens come to Neshoba County to remember. Setting out in a caravan, they visit James Chaney’s grave, now braced upright to deter vandals. Then, driving along Route 19, recently renamed Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner Memorial Highway, they turn onto Rock Cut Road and enter its eerie, haunted woods. At the exact site of the three murders, they set stones on the sacred ground. And they ask “Why only Killen?” Five men convicted of civil rights violations in 1967 are still living. In 1969 a federal appeals court found these men complicit “in a calculated, cold-blooded and merciless plot to murder the three men,” so why not try them for murder? Further prosecution, however, remains elusive. In 2008, the federal Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act was passed to fund investigations into such “cold cases.” Yet Jerry Mitchell thinks more than money will be needed. The Clarion-Ledger reporter sees enough evidence for another “Mississippi Burning” trial, but wonders whether the state has the will. “Other cold cases are not very viable,” Mitchell said. “This one, on the other hand, you’ve got 40,000 pages of documents, living witnesses, trial transcripts—the real basis of a case. It should be investigated again, and I don’t know why it hasn’t been.”
The legacy of Freedom Summer remains embattled. Was it a catalyst for change or an unnecessary provocation that instilled new venom in a dying culture? Interviewed in the mid-1980s, Citizens’ Council president William Simmons remained defiant. “That was the time of the hippies just coming in,” he said, missing the date by three years. “Many had on hippie uniforms and conducted themselves in hippie ways. . . . The arrogance that they showed in wanting to reform a whole state in the way they thought it should be created resentment.” SNCC staffer Charlie Cobb concedes that the summer “changed Mississippi forever,” but believes the changes were inevitable. “You were going to get these federal laws—the Civil Rights Bill in ’64, and the Voting Rights Act in ’65. And eventually you were going to get some slowing of the violence.” Given the loss of momentum among locals, Cobb concluded, “It would have been better to go the other way.”
But many others cannot praise Freedom Summer highly enough. Aaron Henry called it “the greatest sociological experiment the nation has ever pulled off.” The summer changed Mississippi and “the minds of blacks . . . [who] began to look upon themselves as somebody.” Fannie Lou Hamer all but sanctified the “Christ-like” volunteers. “They were the best friends we ever met,” she said. “ . . . We had wondered if there was anybody human enough to see us as human beings instead of animals.” And Georgia congressman John Lewis, interviewed during the 2008 presidential campaign, saw a longer legacy. “Freedom Summer injected a new spirit into the very vein of life in Mississippi and the country,” the former SNCC chair said. “It literally brought the country to Mississippi. People were able to see the horror and evil of blatant racial discrimination. If it hadn’t been for the veterans of Freedom Summer, there would be no Barack Obama.”
Tuesday, January 20, 2009, was clear and chilly in Mississippi. Light snow fell in Oxford. Even the Gulf Coast awoke to freezing temperatures. For most of the morning, Mississippians went about their business. In small diners near courthouse squares, waitresses served biscuits and gravy, eggs and grits. Light trucks rolled off the assembly line at the Nissan factory outside Canton. Cars zipped along Interstate 55—north toward Memphis, south toward the Louisiana line. But then toward 11:00 a.m., time seemed to stop as Mississippi bore witness to Freedom Summer’s final fruit.
Barack Obama handily won Mississippi’s Democratic primary, but come November, he did not win the state that has voted Republican in all but one election (Jimmy Carter’s) since 1964. Yet throughout the 2008 campaign, Mississippi’s reconciliation was on display. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger and other papers endorsed Obama. On election day, a white plantation owner in Panola County, though not an Obama supporter, loaded black workers in his pickup and drove them to the polls. Voter turnout hit record highs, and, as in the rest of America, voting for a black presidential candidate brought tears and celebration. But when the votes were tallied, some had a hard time getting used to the idea of a black family in the White House.
The day after the election, racial tension flared at a high school in Columbus, Mississippi. A heated argument over Obama scared some teens into texting their parents, who came to take them home. Elsewhere in Mississippi, some whites grew tired of hearing about the “first black president.” “Why can’t it be that he’s the next president?” one woman asked. “If he can get America back to where it should be, it doesn’t matter what color he is.” And near Jackson, a school bus driver ordered two boys to stop talking about Obama. They refused. “This is history, woman,” one said to the driver, who threw both kids off the bus. District officials promised to discipline the driver. By Inauguration Day, however, Mississippi seemed more amazed than concerned by the change. “I voted for Obama,” said seventy-eight-year-old James “Little Man” Presley, still working the cotton fields in Panola County. “There’s a heap of pride in voting for a black man.”
As the new president put his hand on the Lincoln Bible, Mississippi held its breath. In classrooms that had excluded their ancestors, in courthouses where registration had been a cruel farce, in cafés they had dared not even enter, blacks watched alongside whites. And when President Obama finished his oath, cheers erupted. In Hattiesburg, Vernon Dahmer’s widow wept. “Oh, if he’d just been able to see it, Lord,” Ellie Dahmer said. “I hope he can see this day.” At a Greenville café where Obama had stopped during his primary campaign, the elderly owner beamed. “It’s the most wonderful day of my life,” Demetrius Buck said. And in Ruleville, Fannie Lou Hamer’s searching question from 1964 seemed to echo down through the decades. Was this finallyAmerica?
Amid many celebrations in the nation’s capital, one group had an especially poignant reunion. Two dozen SNCC veterans gathered in Washington, D.C., to share stories of old times, old battles. Yet the vast majority of Freedom Summer volunteers were nowhere near the limelight on Inauguration Day. Bob Moses spoke on the cable program Democracy Now, recapping the 1964 Freedom Democrat challenge “where the stage was set that allowed this to happen.” But the mainstream media remained fixated on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Meanwhile in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Mendocino, California; in Englewood, New Jersey, and Lewistown, Montana; in Omaha and Memphis, Indianapolis and Atlanta, some seven hundred Americans no one had ever heard of watched as the living embodiment of the hope that sent them to Mississippi stepped to the podium.
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. . . .
An hour before the inauguration, Chris Williams addressed his colleagues at Williams College. Few had any idea that the gregarious architect had once been a civil rights worker. Chris recapped his tenure as a teenager in Mississippi, told of how three men had been murdered on his first day there, how he had gone to Atlantic City, how America had changed since. Then he went to watch.
. . . They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction . . .
For Fran O’Brien, Inauguration Day was “the closest thing to a perfect day one can reasonably expect in this world.” Not having a TV, she listened to the ceremony on the radio, alone in her home. After it was over, she went to a diner and watched clips on TV. She did not plan to tell anyone about Freedom Summer, but a black waitress noticed the white-haired woman’s tears. So Fran told Ebony about teaching in Vicksburg, befriending Mrs. Garrett, enjoying the children. She spoke of fear and hope, but not of horror. The waitress asked many questions and Fran answered patiently. She then went to an art museum, but many of the paintings were blurred.
. . . What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them—that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply . . .
Bright Winn took time out from his plumbing business to watch in his San Francisco home. He looked in vain for his son in the crowd on the Mall, then got a call from him, with cheering in the background. Muriel Tillinghast, though having worked tirelessly for Obama, declined to celebrate in Washington, D.C. Wary of crowds in her native city, she watched the inauguration alone with her cats and turtle in her church in Brooklyn.
. . . and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath. So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. . . .
During the speech, many who had been in Mississippi thought about the martyrs—not just Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, but Herbert Lee and Emmett Till and Medgar Evers and more than a dozen others killed in Mississippi in the name of civil rights. And later that afternoon, some Freedom Summer veterans called each other for the first time in a decade. “It took fo rty-five years,” one said, “but we helped make this day.” Looking back, they took measure of the summer so long ago. They had not been heroes— that honorific was still reserved for the locals. Nor were they crusaders— many had gone before them. The volunteers had merely gone to Mississippi when few others dared to go. As witnesses, as spotlights, they had lent their youthful energy to the struggles of the downtrodden and neglected. Living in shacks, singing in mass meetings, surviving sticky summer nights and inching afternoons, they had endured Mississippi’s hardships. Yet the men and women of Freedom Summer had done more than endure. Echoing William Faulkner’s famous dictum, they had prevailed. They had transcended the hatred, spread the hope, lifted and revived the trampled dream of democracy. Forty-five years after Freedom Summer, their own personal past, filtered through the historic inauguration of a black president, added up to a “freedom high” that lasted for days. And then time went back to work, marching on into an America most dared not imagine they would live to see.
“At the end of it all, I guess what really caught me by surprise is that my fellow citizens voted for Obama in such large numbers, giving him a resounding victory,” Chris Williams said. “I didn’t think we had reached that place yet. How can we not be optimistic?”